The NRA gave Donald Trump an enthusiastic endorsement last month. The bill for that choice may be coming due for both the NRA and conservatives. Trump announced on Twitter that he will meet with the gun-rights advocacy group to discuss a gun-control proposal they vehemently oppose, but which Democrats have been demanding for months, if not years:
Politico picked up on this almost immediately but could get no comment from Team Trump. The NRA hasn’t said anything about it yet, but their Twitter feed has pushed back against the use of watch lists:
Restrictions like bans on gun purchases by people on "watch lists" are ineffective, unconstitutional, or both https://t.co/MQfbYnTDAE
— NRA (@NRA) June 14, 2016
They linked to Jacob Sullum’s analysis at Reason, which explains the practical issues involved, and the consequences of its use for law-abiding citizens:
The problem is that it’s easy to get on a watch list and hard to get off. The FBI’s so-called Terrorist Watchlist, which is supposedly limited to individuals “reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity,” may include more than 1 million people, perhaps two-fifths of whom have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, which the Senate rejected in December, would have given the attorney general essentially unlimited power to block gun sales, provided he “determines” that the buyers are “appropriately suspected” of involvement in terrorism and “has a reasonable belief” that they “may” use the firearms “in connection with terrorism.” The bill did not even require that a blocked buyer appear on a watch list, and the criteria for upholding the attorney general’s decision against a buyer’s appeal were highly permissive: The government would merely have to show it was more likely than not that the attorney general had met the statutory criteria, meaning a low probability that someone is connected to terrorism would suffice to take away his Second Amendment rights.
In my column for The Week, I took a broader view of the transformation such a use would bring to the sovereignty of citizens and their relationship to government:
The American system of justice relies on core principles based on a fundamental understanding of natural law. First, the Constitution exists to restrain government from encroaching on the rights of its sovereign citizens. Second, each citizen retains those civil rights unless a jury of their peers convicts them of violating the law. Third, each citizen is entitled to due process and a presumption of innocence from the government until conviction.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the familiar rush to use the no-fly and terror watch lists as a bar to owning a firearm violates every single one of these principles. …
In this proposal, Clinton and her allies call for an end to due process before denying citizens their constitutional right to bear arms. This is a far more fundamental issue than debating over which firearms to bar from private ownership; it strikes at the fundamental relationship between citizens and the government that exists to serve their liberty interests. Once those principles have been discarded for political expediency on the mere basis of official suspicion, no rights — whether natural or declared — will ever be safe again.
So what could Trump possibly be thinking? It’s possible that Trump might be consulting on policy just to be briefed on it, but the tweet certainly makes it look as though his agenda is to push for the Democratic proposal that the NRA has fought all along. If he wanted to oppose the proposal, all Trump had to do was tweet his opposition to it, or to announce that he’d work with the NRA to oppose it. Instead, he framed the issue in exactly the way Democrats have in “not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or no-fly lists, to buy guns.” That’s not much reason to be optimistic.
Given his recent dip in polling, Trump may be looking for ways to move to the center, or at least to pander to the passions of the moment as a way of righting the ship. As I have argued before, the biggest problem with Trump is that he is a completely transactional figure, and his core value in these transactions is Donald Trump. If he thinks he can win by throwing the NRA and due process under the bus, who really thinks he’d hesitate?
Update: Remember this from last November?
Trump backed a gun ban for ppl on terror watch list last November https://t.co/jWoIhJURiL
— Caitlin Huey-Burns (@CHueyBurns) June 15, 2016
Republican presidential contenders split Sunday on a proposal to ban individuals on a terror watch list from buying guns, with front-runner Donald Trump backing the measure and Ben Carson opposing it.
The measure is being pushed by Democrats in the wake of the Paris attacks. It’s similar to a bill that George W. Bush’s Justice Department supported, but that never won approval due to opposition from gun rights groups.
Now, though, the GOP front-runner said on ABC’s “This Week” that he’d support it.
Host George Stephanopoulos asked: “Mr. Trump, yes or no, should someone on the terror watch list be allowed to buy a gun?”
Trump responded: “If somebody is on a watch list and an enemy of state and we know it’s an enemy of state, I would keep them away, absolutely.”
But Carson said later on the same show that he’s concerned that “there are a lot of people on that watch list and they have no idea why they’re on that list and they’ve been trying to get their names off of it, and no one will give them information.”