What Is Trump’s Record on Guns So Far
Accelerated bulk purchasing, less politely referred to as panic buying, of standard-capacity magazines and other potentially restricted items ceased abruptly on November 8, 2016, with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. That the electoral vote went in the opposite direction of what almost every pollster was telling us beforehand was, to the majority of gun owners I have spoken to, a great relief.
Sales of other firearm-related items have also fallen. The expected passage of the Hearing Protection Act and its associated elimination of the $200 tax stamp and 6-to-12-month wait for ATF to process forms related to the transfer of a silencer caused a precipitous drop in the sale of such items in anticipation of an unprecedented rush of sales, but as the HPA has yet to come to fruition, things are not looking as bright in the silencer world as they once were. This quickly reached a crisis level whereupon over-leveraged SilencerCo, once the industry leader, summarily executed its entire management staff en masse – or, at least, summarily executed their paychecks.
What, then, has been the impact of President Donald Trump on gun rights in America? So far, not a whole lot – but for many, a maintenance of the status quo is a victory in and of itself.
Let’s run down the changes he’s made – and the things he’s left alone.
February 2017 – Social Security Rule Reversal
Beginning in February of 2017, Trump supported a Senate move to reverse an eleventh-hour rule change by the Obama Administration that would have added 75,000 people deemed “mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs” to the list of prohibited possessors in the FBI’s NICS background check system. While couched by dishonest journalists as Trump extending gun ownership to large swathes of the mentally ill, a connection between the bureaucratic determination of needing assistance to manage finances and the types of mental illness which lead to mass shootings has yet to be established. Even the ACLU, which vehemently resists supporting the idea of private firearms ownership, supported the Senate’s move, and Trump’s signing of it.
Furthermore, if the Obama rule was so critical to protecting American citizens, it would have been enacted prior to December 19, 2016, when President Obama was in the “lame duck” phase of his administration. Indeed, it is likely that the rule change was enacted solely because it was expected that the Trump administration and Republican Senate would reverse it, giving an opportunity for those less honest among us to paint Trump as having personally handed out machine guns to crazy people. Ever-biased Snopes still calls an inaccurate claim relating to this issue “mostly true.”
April 2017 – NRA Convention Speech
If there’s anything that supporters and opponents of Donald Trump can agree upon, it’s that he loves firing up a friendly crowd. At the NRA Convention in Atlanta, he told a raucous crowd of supporters that “the eight-year assault on your second amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House. No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans.” He also stated, “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.”
Despite the lofty rhetoric, many are still waiting for President Trump to “come through.”
April 2017 – Gorsuch Confirmation
After the 2016 death of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, many saw the 2016 presidential election as a referendum of sorts on the Supreme Court vacancy. President Trump’s nomination to replace Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April of 2017. Though he has not faced a significant Second Amendment case on the level of Mcdonald or Heller, it is presumed that Gorsuch would follow Scalia’s lead in supporting the right of private citizens to own common firearms.
November 2017 – Response to Sutherland Springs, TX Church Shooting
When asked if he would consider “extreme vetting” for gun buyers, Trump responded, “Well, you’re bringing up a situation that probably shouldn’t be discussed too much right now. We could let a little time go by, but it’s okay. If you feel that that’s an appropriate question, even though we’re in the heart of South Korea, I will certainly answer your question. If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago, and you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him, and hit him and neutralize him. And I can only say this: If he didn’t have a (gun), instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead. So that’s the way I feel about it. Not going to help… I mean, you look at the city with the strongest gun laws in our nation, is Chicago, and Chicago is a disaster. It’s a total disaster. Just remember, if this man didn’t have a gun or rifle, you’d be talking about a much worse situation in the great state of Texas.”
This denial of movement on background checks would not last long.
February 2018 – “Take the Guns First, Due Process Second” and Support for Assault Weapons Ban
After the Parkland, FL high school shooting and revelations that the shooter had a long history of negative interactions with law enforcement as well as documented mental health issues, President Trump blurted, “Take the guns first, go through due process second,” along with “I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida … to go to court would have taken a long time,” and when Vice President Mike Pence attempted to reverse the order of operations to due process followed by gun confiscation “so that no one’s rights were trampled,” Trump insisted, “Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court.”
Had any Democratic politician – let alone a Democratic president – uttered those words, the outcry would have been near-revolutionary. As it was, Trump was forced to quickly, if quietly, walk back what he said, doing so through his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who stated the goal was to “expedite the process” of taking guns from dangerous mentally ill people.
Trump also suggested adding an assault weapons ban to the pending background check bill, causing California Senator Dianne Feinstein to “shake with glee”, as one reporter put it. He supported raising the long gun purchase age to 21, but walked that back in a tweet a few weeks later.
On a somewhat pro-gun side, Trump announced via Twitter in February that some properly trained and vetted teachers should be allowed to carry guns while teaching.
March 2018 – Proposed Bump Fire Stock Ban
The day before a nationwide “March For Our Lives” organized by major anti-gun groups backed by mega-donors, President Trump’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, colloquially known as the ATF, submitted a proposed rule change to ban bump fire stocks, themselves colloquially known as bump stocks. This move was supported by Trump, who couched the issue in terms of bump fire stocks having been found to be legal under the Obama-era ATF.
May 2018 – Second NRA Speech; Strong Support for Gun Rights
In what many saw as a course change, if not a reversal, of his February and March policy leanings, President Trump again gave a speech to the NRA Convention in Dallas, telling NRA members that he strongly supported gun rights and mentioning the March passage of the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, which was intended to strengthen school security but contained no measures related to gun control or concealed carry by teachers.
June/July 2018 – Retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy / Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh
In June 2018, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, and President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace him in early July. The confirmation process is still ongoing, but many on the left and the right have pointed out Kavanaugh’s rather unequivocal stance on the Second Amendment, which could be more overtly pro-liberty in this regard than any other – even Neil Gorsuch. In any case, as documented on Volokh Conspiracy, no Supreme Court nominee has had such a clear Second Amendment record as Kavanaugh.
Even if he is confirmed, however, it’s not clear how much the Supreme Court would change. Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy, which, well, could mean a lot of things. Probably the biggest possible change would be that the Supreme Court would stop denying certiorari, that is, denying to hear, challenges to existing gun laws in states like California. If recent cases on magazine bans and open carry from the Ninth Circuit are successfully challenged at the Supreme Court level, this could spell doom for some gun control efforts – but this is far from a guarantee.
If President Trump nominates a third justice similar to Gorsuch or Kavanaugh to replace one of the four liberal-leaning justices, that would send shockwaves through the legal community and probably the country as a whole.
July 2018 – 3D-Printed Guns Don’t “Make Much Sense”
On the heels of the dismissal of the legal battle between 3D-printed firearm innovator Defense Distributed and the US State Department, the announcement that August 1 would be the date upon which plans for 3D-printed firearms could be downloaded from the Internet, President Trump tweeted, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
The exact meaning of this tweet, and whether or not President Trump will back off from this stance, has yet to be determined, as it occurred early in the morning on the very day this article was written. It’s possible that Trump could go either way on this issue. The 3D-printed firearm “problem” is more of a 1st Amendment issue than one relating to the 2nd Amendment, and we have not heard President Trump profess the same level of admiration for the First Amendment that he has for the Second Amendment. Basically, this tweet could mean anything.
Where Does All This Leave Us?
While the proverbial sky has not fallen in terms of a federal magazine capacity ban or limitations on semi-automatic rifles, neither have anticipated advances in the areas of nationwide concealed carry or the aforementioned silencer paperwork adjustment occurred. It appears that in legislative terms, the best way to describe the Trump presidency is a maintenance of the status quo, though Trump has made many statements which give gun owners pause.
In judicial terms, while the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy carry the potential to lead to victories for Second Amendment supporters in the future, one must be cautious to avoid counting our chickens before the eggs hatch. Watch the midterm elections to see which way the wind is blowing – this will likely be as good an indicator of federal movement on firearm legislation in the next year as any other.
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