Donald Trump's mixed gun platform

Donald Trump’s gun platform is out and it’s a mixed bag. From a strategy standpoint it seems odd to release it late on a Friday afternoon. That’s traditionally in the “Friday News Dump” category, but perhaps Trump was hoping to change the topic from his skipping of the Heritage Action Forum in South Carolina and the “we’re going to be looking at that” comment over Muslim camps from Thursday. Where Trump’s gun platform is good, it’s pretty good. But where it’s bad, it’s pretty bad.


From a conceal carry standpoint, Trump is spot on.

NATIONAL RIGHT TO CARRY. The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway. That’s why I have a concealed carry permit and why tens of millions of Americans do too. That permit should be valid in all 50 states. A driver’s license works in every state, so it’s common sense that a concealed carry permit should work in every state. If we can do that for driving – which is a privilege, not a right – then surely we can do that for concealed carry, which is a right, not a privilege.

It’s a good position to have and a stance no other candidate has really taken. The closest are probably Rand Paul and possibly John Kasich. All other candidates tend to promise to defend the Second Amendment without saying how. Trump is right that conceal carry permit holders should be able to carry in all 50 states. It’s ludicrous for them to have to look up the laws of states they’re either passing through or just visiting before they travel. It’d be nice if a presidential candidate would support constitutional carry, but this strikes me as something which will take another decade as more states adopt it. Trump is also right on letting people own whatever guns they want to and allowing military members to carry on campus. He deserves praise for this and it’s nice to see him have this position.

The problem is the rest of the plan isn’t “freedom and liberty,” but just more government. From his “Enforce The Laws On The Books” section:

Several years ago there was a tremendous program in Richmond, Virginia called Project Exile. It said that if a violent felon uses a gun to commit a crime, you will be prosecuted in federal court and go to prison for five years – no parole or early release. Obama’s former Attorney General, Eric Holder, called that a “cookie cutter” program. That’s ridiculous. I call that program a success. Murders committed with guns in Richmond decreased by over 60% when Project Exile was in place – in the first two years of the program alone, 350 armed felons were taken off the street.

Why does that matter to law-abiding gun owners? Because they’re the ones who anti-gun politicians and the media blame when criminals misuse guns. We need to bring back and expand programs like Project Exile and get gang members and drug dealers off the street. When we do, crime will go down and our cities and communities will be safer places to live.


There are a few problems with this proposal. Mandatory minimums, like the ones in Project Exile, just end up putting more people in prison without a real effect on crime. The National Research Council did an entire study on mandatory minimums last year which showed they really didn’t help.

Effects on crime. The shift toward more incarceration and longer sentences reflected a widespread view that incarceration was a key way to control crime. This has not proven to be the case. During the four decades when incarceration rates steadily rose, crime rates showed no clear trend. The crime reduction effect of incarceration on is highly uncertain and is unlikely to have been large. In addition, the crime-reduction benefits of very long sentences are likely to be small; one reason is that rates of re-offending drop significantly as people age, and so very long sentences incarcerate people whose likelihood of committing further crimes is low even if they were not imprisoned.

Mandatory minimums also end up costing taxpayers more money. FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye wrote in February on how the debt has increased because of an exploding prison population.

Mandatory minimums have been cited as a reason for the exponential growth in the federal prison population, which, in FY 2010, numbered 208,118 inmates, up from 24,252 in FY 1980. “The [United States Sentencing Commission] reported that the number of inmates in the federal prison system who were convicted of an offense that carried a mandatory minimum penalty increased 178%, from approximately 40,000 in FY 1995 to nearly 112,000 in FY 2010,” the Congressional Research Service explains. “Of these offenders, nearly 30,000 in FY 1995 and approximately 80,000 in FY 2010 were actually subject to a mandatory minimum penalty.”


So Trump’s proposal would actually expand government, instead of decreasing it. If he were really a “small government conservative” he wouldn’t be pushing this sort of policy. There are also questions as to whether Project Exile actually worked. Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America wrote in 2002 about how expanding gun rights did more to reduce crime than Project Exile (emphasis mine).

An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper (4/01/02) says that, according to a study by the liberal Brookings Institution, “the highly touted Project Exile had little to do with a decline in Richmond’s firearm homicide rate…. The researchers found that the drop in gun homicide rates after the implementation of Project Exile in 1997 was not unusual. They say it would have been likely to occur without it.”

In other words, enforcing the existing gun laws — the core of Project Exile — has no impact on crime.

In fact, GOA found that the murder rate in Richmond began to decline two years before Project Exile began — when a concealed firearm carry law went into effect.

So Trump’s just wrong on Project Exile and the “benefits” of the program. He also neglects to point out the existence of Project Safe Neighborhoods which does exactly what Project Exile did. It already costs $2B… is he wanting to expand it to $4B? Or is Trump interested in just creating a whole new program which would completely duplicate what’s already being done on a national level? Either one needs to be resisted because it’ll cost taxpayers more money and may have only a negligible effect on crime across the country.


Then there’s the mental health aspect of Trump’s proposal. To say the least, it’s troublesome and not something which protects “freedom and liberty” (emphasis mine).

All of the tragic mass murders that occurred in the past several years have something in common – there were red flags that were ignored. We can’t allow that to continue. We need to expand treatment programs, because most people with mental health problems aren’t violent, they just need help. But for those who are violent, a danger to themselves or others, we need to get them off the street before they can terrorize our communities. This is just common sense.

This isn’t common sense, it’s a policy which endangers freedom more than it helps. Jazz wrote last year on the New York SAFE Act which saw people lose their right to own guns without a hearing. While Trump isn’t promoting this, he is agreeing with Dewey Cornell of the Virginia Youth Violence Project who told USA Today “society” has to be protected from the mentally ill.

“Our civil commitment laws are broken. They are designed to protect individuals from being held against their will. But they have gone too far. They no longer protect society. We’ve had many cases where people who should have been hospitalized have been allowed to languish and they deteriorate into a violent act.”

But this might not be true. Jacob Sullum wrote at Reason last month on how those in favor of forcibly putting people in mental hospitals may not be telling the whole truth.


In any case, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “96% of people with serious mental illnesses never act violently.” Presumably that is why [[ Columbia University psychiatrist Jeffrey ]] Lieberman adds “known risk factors for violence” to his criteria for coercive treatment. It is debatable whether [[ Virginia TV reporter shooter Vester ]] Flanagan had a history of violence. While his coworkers had alarming encounters with him, it looks like none rose to the level of assault. So far I have not seen any references to drug abuse. In short, Lieberman latches onto this case to argue that more use of court-ordered psychiatric treatment would stop the “vast majority” of mass shootings, but he does not even show how the policy he advocates could have stopped Flanagan, let alone most other murderers. 

This is why Trump’s gun policy is a mix of good and bad. He should be praised for wanting people to be able to buy whatever gun they want and allowing concealed carry permits to work in all 50 states. But Trump is flat out wrong on Project Exile and mental health issues. His proposals don’t go far enough to actually protect the Second Amendment and won’t actually “make America great again.”

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John Stossel 12:00 AM | April 24, 2024