Does President Trump Care About Gun Owners?
At the end of 2016, things were looking pretty good for gun owners. Donald Trump’s surprise Presidential win had everyone scrambling and trying to figure out what was going to happen – but one thing many people seemed to be sure of was that a cornucopia of legislative victories for gun owners was just around the corner.
Most notable among these victories was the Hearing Protection Act, which, along with Concealed Carry Reciprocity, composed the bulk of our 2016 Christmas wish list. The former would have removed silencers from the NFA registry, making them still subject to background checks and a 4473 transfer record, but getting rid of the onerous (and pointless) registration process for silencers and sound suppressors. The latter would have allowed those with valid concealed carry permits from one state to travel to any other state while carrying, much as we drive from one state to the next without having to stop to get a driver’s license in each state along the way.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly exhorted his commitment to the Second Amendment. While he didn’t specifically mention silencers, his son Donald Trump Jr. visited SilencerCo and was photographed with silencers, for heaven’s sake. If that wasn’t an outreach to the more committed (to preserving their hearing) gun owners, I don’t know what was.
After the campaign, Trump addressed the NRA and said he would “never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Never ever.” He also said that the “eight-year assault on the Second Amendment was over.”
Fast forward two years and change from the 2016 presidential election, and what do we find?
No HPA, no CCW reciprocity, and what is inarguably an infringement on the right of the people to keep and bear arms – yesterday, December 18, 2018, marked the beginning of the bump stock ban. Those in possession of stocks which enable easier bump firing, such as ones made by Slide Fire Solutions, have 90 days to destroy them or turn them in. Yes, legal challenges have been filed, and no, I don’t see them going anywhere. I also don’t think very many bumpfire stocks will be turned in.
To be fair, I think House and Senate GOP leadership deserve a good amount of the scorn as far as HPA and CCW reciprocity go, because I’ve heard rumblings that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell just didn’t think these bills were worth the trouble to the Republican Party. But as we can see from the recent passage of the FIRST STEP Act (also known as criminal justice reform) in the Senate, when Trump wants something to happen, and Mitch McConnell doesn’t, the President can make it happen. This leads me to conclude, logically, that the President does not want to advance gun rights.
Now that the Democrats have a solid majority in the House, it is even more unlikely that either HPA or CCW reciprocity will happen.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the NRA’s general counsel and asked him about the potential for the passage of the HPA and, for kicks, repealing the Hughes Amendment. For those not in the know, the Hughes Amendment was an improperly passed yet still-signed-into-law addition to the 1986 FOPA which prevented the registration of new machine guns under the 1934 National Firearms Act. Obviously, repealing it is a pipe dream in the current political climate, as the NRA attorney’s response made clear. He also cast roughly equal doubt on the passage of the HPA, much to my disappointment, and said the NRA was focused on national CCW reciprocity instead.
That’s all well and good, but it’ll have to be done judicially, because pro-gun bills appear to have very little support from the President.
When Donald Trump said he would “never ever” infringe on the right to keep and bear arms, all I can think of is the line from The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
In fact, it’s fair to say that President Obama had a better record on not infringing on the rights of gun owners than President Trump – or, at least, on expanding them. While Obama was no friend to the Second Amendment, he at least grudgingly signed a bill which contained an unrelated provision allowing concealed carry in national parks. That was an expansion of gun rights. We have not seen anything of that kind from the Trump administration.
I want to be wrong about this, but I think it’s fair to say that what President Trump sees as an infringement on gun rights and what a lot of gun owners see as an infringement on gun rights are two very different things. Trump comes to this issue from the perspective of a New York City conservative, if you can call him that. I don’t think he gets what it means to own guns and exercise this freedom.
A common refrain from conservatives on the issue is that Trump (and the Senate) have done a very good job of nominating and confirming “conservative” judges at the federal level. This is true, and it could be an important bulwark against legislation by the judiciary, but it is no substitute for properly – read Constitutionally – passed legislation. For one thing, a pro-Second Amendment judge might not be as hot on an expansive reading of the Fourth Amendment as you (should) like. For another, this action provides only the potential for benefits in the future.
The dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller was written by a Republican Supreme Court nominee (Stevens, nominated by Ford) and joined by another Republican Supreme Court nominee (Souter, nominated by Bush 41). There is no guarantee that a “solid conservative” justice will deliver “solid conservative” decisions, and frankly, we shouldn’t want that. Justices should function as part of an independent branch of government, not as a subordinate arm of the legislative or executive branch.
Judicial nominations aside, I am left wondering how gun owners will react in November of 2020. Midterm elections are traditionally bad for the incumbent; I don’t think we should read too much into the 2018 results, but I think Trump’s inaction on items like the HPA and CCW reciprocity will cost him some votes in two years.
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