What action will Donald Trump take on mass shootings? Depends on how close he gets to them, according to his remarks at a conference with governors this morning. Had Trump been on the scene in Parkland, Florida, he would have charged into the school even without a weapon, he claimed in criticizing the Broward Sheriff Office response to the mass murder:
“I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would've done that too,” Pres. Trump says on Parkland, Florida, school shooting while addressing U.S. governors https://t.co/mAQ1yaQp90 pic.twitter.com/zWhRPWsq6Y
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 26, 2018
Trump probably really does believe it, but don’t expect that belief to be widely shared. Some on social media have already begun to point out Trump’s draft deferments in the context of that claim, and they’d have a point. However, most people probably feel the same way about themselves after discovering that BSO deputies who were armed did nothing to intervene. It’s a feeling borne of frustration and disgust at cowardice, especially from people who were both trained for the purpose of intervening and paid to do so. It’s a declaration of comparison more than a commitment to action, although it would be advisable for a president to refrain from either and just make the point more directly.
The White House made it plain yesterday that Trump wanted a discussion on gun issues at today’s conference. That may have made a virtue out of necessity; the governors were itching for that discussion, and Trump obliged. The one statutory demand that Trump made related not to the most recent mass shooting but to last year’s massacre in Las Vegas:
BREAKING: President Trump asserts he'd ban bump stocks himself: "Bump stocks — we're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not, I'm writing it out myself." pic.twitter.com/CvQKKsCn9v
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 26, 2018
That would potentially get added to his other ideas for action from Congress, floated out over the weekend:
“I think we’re going to have a great bill put forward very soon having to do with background checks, having to do with getting rid of certain things and keeping other things, and perhaps we’ll do something on age, because it doesn’t seem to make sense that you have to wait until you are 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this maniac used in the school, you get that at 18,” Trump said during a late Saturday telephone interview with Fox News Channel. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Can the president ban bump stocks? That also depends on who you ask. Congress would certainly prefer to have the ATF act directly to bar the sale of the devices by reversing the earlier regulatory finding that allowed sales in the first place. Trump threatened to do so last week too, by ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to expedite the ATF review that had already started in December. However, it’s unclear whether the ATF could ban all use and possession of previously legal bump stocks or only just the sale of them from this point forward (which it clearly can do). It would take a statute to cover all of the potential issues with the devices, which arguably should never have been allowed to be sold in the first place.
More interestingly, the White House seems to feel safer pushing federal legislative solutions that apply to the earlier shooting rather than Parkland. The responses to the most recent shooting rely heavily on allowing teachers with carry permits to remain armed in what have been “gun-free zones” in order to assist in defending students, which Trump has repeatedly noted would be up to state and local authorities.
Pat Toomey wonders whether he can get Trump to back him on more stringent federal requirements on background checks that he proposed last year. The problem is that it won’t actually address what happened in Parkland, as he admitted on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday:
CHUCK TODD: Let me start with uh, your bill. And what we. Uh know about the shooter down in south Florida. There was a lot of information the school system had. There was a lot of information that were called into authorities about the mental stability or instability of this young man.
SEN. PAT TOOMEY: Right.
CHUCK TODD: But there’s no part of the law that would have mandated that information make it into the background check system. How would your bill deal with that?
SEN. PAT TOOMEY: Uh, it wouldn’t. uh you know the fact is the bill that Joe Manchin and I introduced and that we still support, Chuck it’s not going to solve all the problems and we never suggested it would. And one of the challenges we face is what to do about someone who is clearly mentally deranged, but they haven’t acted out yet in a way that allows you to adjudicate them as dangerously mentally ill or they haven’t committed a crime. Clearly in this case there were all kinds of warning signs that were advertised, right? That were communicated. And nothing was done. That’s a problem. I think there’s an important discussion to be had about a temporary restraining order on somebody who’s evidencing some serious dangerous behavior. There would have to be due process. So that that couldn’t be used as a weapon against someone inappropriately. But, look, our legislation I think would be very constructive. I still support it. I’m not going to suggest it would solve all problems.
That’s been the problem with most of the proposals that regularly appear after mass shootings. We discover, as Marco Rubio argued in the CNN town hall last week, that nothing in these proposals would have stopped the shootings. In this case, the failure is so obviously on the part of law enforcement — both in the moment and in dozens of contacts prior to it — that it’s difficult to credit any kind of statutory innovation as reliable. Local law enforcement and the FBI had plenty of opportunities and enough probable cause to intervene and force a psychological assessment at the least, and arguably enough evidence to prosecute the shooter for terroristic threats. They did nothing with the laws already available to them; why would anyone believe they’d have done more with additional laws?
That’s why a bump stock ban is attractive now. It would have at least mitigated one set of circumstances and saved some lives, plus the sale of those devices is difficult to justify when fully automatic firearms are highly restricted for good reasons. Otherwise, the proper solution to these situations is to enforce the laws already on the books and stop coddling kids who send up dozens of red flags. And when shooting does break out, it might be better to have people who feel comfortable carrying a weapon absolved from the “gun free zone” condition on the inside to offer some resistance than wait for help which might not arrive in time … or at all.