The Trump gun trajectory: From banning assault weapons to NRA endorsement

Monday, August 5, 2019
By Paul Martin

by Rob Crilly
August 05, 2019

“I generally oppose gun control, wrote Donald Trump in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, “but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

It was an uncontroversial view for a freewheeling New Yorker, who moved in the same circles as Bill and Hillary Clinton, and liked to speak his mind.

Twelve years later, even after he had begun his shift to the right, Trump endorsed Barack Obama’s push for tougher gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting that cost the lives of 20 children and six members of staff.

“President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in Connecticut,” he tweeted.

But his line shifted as he joined the Republican race for president in 2015 and in office has fluctuated at times between an apparent instinct for action after mass shootings tempered by an embrace of conservative causes. Those views are back in the spotlight after another weekend of gun violence.

“I am a Second Amendment person,” he declared in early 2016 during a Republican presidential debate, before claiming that armed bystanders could have limited the death toll in San Bernardino, where 14 people were shot dead a month earlier.

“If we had guns in California on the other side where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now.”

In May 2016 his campaign was endorsed by the National Rifle Association even though at times — such as after the Orlando nightclub shooting in which 49 people were murdered —Trump suggested he would be a less than reliable ally.

“I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns,” he tweeted in June that year.

Nothing more was heard of that proposal.

Yet he has continued to send mixed messages, often reacting to the latest gun outrage with calls to action before later shifting stance.

In the wake of the 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida, for example, he chastised Republican colleagues for being in the pocket of the gun lobby.

“Some of you are petrified of the NRA,” he said during a meeting that brought together Democrats and Republicans at the White House. “You can’t be petrified.”

He also proposed a wide-ranging overhaul of the law to enable better background checks, arm school staff, increase the minimum age for certain gun sales, and keep firearms away from people who might misuse them.

“I like taking the guns early,” the president said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

The talk alarmed gun rights advocates even before Trump promised to ban “bump stocks” a month later, saying they “turn legal weapons into illegal machines.” The accessories had become the focal point of the gun debate for their central role in a 2017 massacre when 58 people were shot dead at a music festival.

Yet it was not long before Trump was addressing cheering NRA delegates at a conference in Dallas.

“Your Second Amendment rights are under siege,” he told them. “But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”

So far he has made good on that promise. Soon after taking office he signed a law rolling back Obama-era regulations that made it harder for people with mental illness to buy firearms.

And this year the White House has made clear he will veto legislation passed by the Democratic House which seeks to broaden background checks.

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