C’mon. Why lie when the lie is easily exposed?
When I said that if, within the Orlando club, you had some people with guns, I was obviously talking about additional guards or employees
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2016
Here’s what he said on Friday in Texas:
“If we had people with bullets going the opposite direction right smack between the eyes of this maniac — if some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here, right to their waist or right to their ankle, and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting — and one of the people in that room happened to have it and goes ‘boom, boom,’ you know what, that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks. That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight.”
He’s talking about the clubgoers themselves, obviously. If all he meant was that more employees or security should have been carrying, that would be so pedestrian a point as not to be worth making. There’s no controversy over authorized personnel engaging a gunman; the political salience of Trump’s argument rests in the idea that arming average people will lead to less crime. Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox of the NRA were on the Sunday shows yesterday and predictably were asked about that. Do they think it’s a good idea for average people to be carrying in a club when drinking and possibly drug-taking are going on? Er, no, said LaPierre. No, Cox agreed, adding that he didn’t believe Trump was suggesting otherwise although, as I say, just read the quote above. Trump posted his tweet this morning in response to them, to try to head off perceptions that he’s actually to the right of the NRA on concealed carry. Even in circumstances where people are partially incapacitated by intoxication.
So what happened? What led Trump, who’s famously a teetotaler himself, to suggest that guns are okay even for people who are loaded at 2 a.m.? It’s not stupidity. What you’re seeing here, I think, is the same instinct at work that led him to say a few months back that, if the laws could be changed to ban abortion, not just doctors but women themselves should face criminal penalties for aborting. That’s not conservative orthodoxy, but Trump didn’t realize that because he doesn’t speak conservatism as a first language. He knew that conservatives are devoutly pro-life so he guessed at what he thought their position must be: Abortion is evil, therefore … women should be punished once it’s illegal, right? Same deal with guns. He knows this is a cultural hot button for many right-wingers; he also knows that he’s already out on a limb by agreeing with Democrats that people on a terror watch list should lose their gun rights. (Possibly with some due process protections, possibly not.) He needed to pander to shore up his image as a gun-rights champion so he went with the safe crowd-pleasing argument that if Americans had a more robust right to carry, that lunatic in Orlando would have been dropped. I doubt he paused even a second to consider that he was advocating letting people bring their guns to a loud dark room where everyone’s drunk. “More guns, less crime!” That’s what he’s heard people on the right say so that’s what he’s going to say, period.
If you still doubt that he’s talking about clubgoers carrying rather than authorized personnel, here he is last November addressing the jihadi assault in Paris on the Bataclan theater, another dark loud room where people were apt to be agitated and enjoying “substances.” If only “they” had been “allowed to carry,” he says. French cops and security are allowed to carry, obviously. He’s talking about a different group. In fact, I notice that this clip also comes from a rally he gave in Texas. It may be that Trump gets a little looser with the “more guns, less crime” rhetoric when he’s in the south expecting, probably rightly, that it’s a special crowd-pleaser. He told the NYT a few months ago that whenever he senses the audience at one of his rallies is getting bored, he’ll say something about building the wall and everyone goes nuts. Talking about concealed carry in Texas may serve the same purpose. You’re not supposed to take his proposal literally. You’re supposed to pump your fist and say “right on.”