Will Donald Trump put together a gun-control package that eluded Barack Obama? After two mass shootings this weekend, Trump has ignored reluctant Republicans and a worried NRA to push for expanded background checks and “red flag” laws to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and dangerous. Wayne LaPierre tried to slow Trump down yesterday, but the president declared full speed ahead this morning on Twitter:
….mentally ill or deranged people. I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country. Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2019
How comforting will it be for LaPierre to have the NRA’s views “fully represented” by Trump alone at the bargaining table? Before this week, perhaps quite comforting, but after this week … not so much. LaPierre has played on the defensive all week, as is usual after mass shootings, mainly with the effective argument that the proposed “solutions” wouldn’t have necessarily stopped any of these incidents.
Trump’s need for action has changed that calculus, however. Republicans on Capitol Hill seem more inclined to follow Trump’s lead this time than the NRA’s, too:
While Trump, following previous mass shootings has spoken of tightening background checks — only to later abandon those efforts — there are modest signs things could be different this time.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said a law expanding background checks and “red flags” would be on the table after the Senate returns from its August recess.
“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass” the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and a so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.
“But what we can’t do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that’s unacceptable,” McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.
McConnell has more or less been forced into that position, thanks to Trump’s decision to find a way to act. Trump was way out ahead of the curve on the politics of this mass shooting and how voters would react to no change at all:
Voters may at times prioritize the economy, health care, and immigration as higher policy priorities, but the most urgent business of government is public safety. The more that mass shootings occur, the more they become viewed as potential threats to voters in a personal way, no matter how many statistics show that they’re not occurring on a more or less frequent basis. When voters perceive threats to public safety, they expect office holders to do something, not explain various reasons to embrace futility, even if that something may or may not help the problem.
With a tough re-election fight ahead, Trump wisely chose to address the issue head-on and to reframe it around his own policy priorities. After a strange attempt on Twitter to link gun policies to immigration reform, Trump delivered a statement that focused on unity, bipartisanship, and most notably, the need for action. And he made it clear that despite the mutual support between himself and the NRA, Trump is willing to bargain to do something. …
Action is Trump’s default mode as it is, but this has obvious benefits for his 2020 campaign. Pushing for action puts Trump in position to compete with messaging from his potential Democratic opponents; if Trump gets legislation passed or succeeds with executive orders to advance these ideas, he can claim progress on the issue. It won’t preempt criticism entirely, but he won’t get caught embracing futility — a trap into which his party sometimes falls.
Trump will make sure something passes. It’s up to the GOP and the NRA to bend a little in order to help shape that something into benign and effective steps to reduce the risks going forward, which is in everyone’s interests. In this instance, it’s Trump with the clear-eyed view of the moment rather than the old-trench view of the status quo. McConnell’s beginning to see it as well.