It’s obviously too soon for writing a complete epitaph of the Trump presidency, however it finally concludes, by resignation, impeachment or some other more sensational climax. With such an unorthodox administration in every other manner, grinding through another election cycle or eventual term limit seems improbable. Still, whatever happens, it’s worth examining the stain Trump has already left on American gun culture and where we go from here.
In that regard, his relationship with the NRA must be addressed, as no organization has become more ubiquitous representing the public face of US gun owners, and no chief executive more closely tied with them. In an open letter from October of 2016, I criticized NRA leadership for endorsing Trump and predicted a woeful outcome. Short term, they could argue I was wrong.
As scandal after scandal after scandal plagued his presidential run, hordes of high level Republicans and traditional party backers either resisted endorsing Trump or actively opposed his nomination. Virtually all polls predicted a Hillary Clinton victory and the man himself made little effort toward even assembling a transition team.
Yet through this, the NRA never wavered and their loyalty found unlikely reward after Trump’s technical electoral win, alongside Republican gains overall. Their ship came in with two pro-2nd Amendment supreme court justices installed, while at the same time, many other federal judicial appointments swiftly filled. This took place while critical international postings remained empty and encouragement of White Nationalists and Fascists continued unabated, sending a clear signal where priorities lay: Rewarding his staunchest Right Wing supporters.
More minor 2nd Amendment related victories piled up as well, from loosening regulation of firearms on certain federal lands and revoking former President Obama’s gun purchasing ban against some Social Security mental health recipients (which it’s worth mentioning, the ACLU also opposed.) Still, most sensational items from the NRA’s wish list capsized. The Republican dominated congress failed passing a national concealed carry reciprocity act and another bill easing sound suppressor ownership sank as well.
An exception that must be noted was Trump’s unexpected announcement last December of a bump stock ban. However, it signified no significant break in his relationship with NRA hierarchy. Their subservient official statement on devices that simulate automatic fire is well worth reading. In short, they:
(1) voice no disagreement with Trump’s action
(2) call for the BATFE to re-evaluate whether or not bump stocks create automatic fire
(3) despite considerable expertise on tap, withhold any judgment about it themselves and…
(4) blame their original deregulation on Obama. (Thanks Obama!)
Therefore, in general the Trump presidency seems like a significant victory for gun owners and the NRA. Yet, as tables begin turning, with Democratic midterm wins one major indication, the future picture may not remain so rosy. This might seem surprising, because in the recent past, Democrats have balked at taking on gun control nationally. While long recognizing the issue as useful for mobilizing Liberals, party leaders well remember their sensational congressional defeat in 1994, which President Clinton famously blamed on the NRA.
But now, major differences seem evident. Trump and gun rights are much more entwined than under previous Republican administrations, such as George W. Bush, who supported the 1994-2004 Assault Weapon Ban. As legal pressure against the president rises, NRA media releases (check them out) have becomes increasingly apocalyptic and unhinged. No behavior, it seems, no matter how corrupt or abhorrent, is apparently sufficient for them to cut ties with his regime.
Gun control groups are also better funded and organized than before. The New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy financiers back the movement, which picked up steam in recent years following sensational massacres, most prominently the 2016 Orlando nightclub and 2017 Las Vegas concert shootings. While many dismiss them as illegitimate because of this, it’s important to remember that most individual members are ordinary citizens who simply grew weary after years of seeing innocent people shot down in malls or schools and felt compelled to take action. Any action. The vast number of violent threats directed against gun control proponents only solidifies their positions. By contrast, I’ve operated as a public 2nd Amendment advocate for almost fifteen years and met with only occasional polite disagreement from Liberals. Every belligerent rhetorical attack on my pro-gun projects has come from the Right.
Photo credit: Jonathon Levinson, OPB 2019 (Ross Eliot with M1A)
Another new factor is that Democrats are in the midst of a severe confidence crisis. The most obvious manifestation of this was Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential run which party officials self-sabotaged in favor of Hillary Clinton’s losing bid; a bungle still lacking internal accountability. Many of the new political upstarts reaping headlines lean much further Left than the upper echelons, who maintain deep ties with wealthy corporate concerns.
For those elite elements, bringing gun control to the fore could be a way of placating Liberals and camouflaging national leaders under a progressive seeming mantle. Democratic politicians who cheerfully accept checks from agri-businesses, pharmaceutical corporations and hedge fund managers might deflect criticism by highlighting stands against the NRA. Trump voters screaming furiously about 2nd Amendment violations would conveniently distract Democrats from regressive members of their own party.
It’s the long term picture that counts and that’s why, despite Trump’s election scoring some immediate gun rights gains, the future is worrying for anyone who cares about community self defense amidst a dramatic rise in domestic Fascist terrorism. America’s middle class continues eroding with wealth disparity increasing, yet Right wingers who formerly supported Trump’s economic populist talking points are already blinded from his complicity with Wall Street and other scandals by racist immigrant blaming. At the same time, Left leaning Democrats, who should remain focused on social justice based economic solutions, hunger for anything that upsets Republicans. Harsh firearm restrictions would certainly accomplish that.
While a post-Trump world carries undeniable appeal, the decline and aftermath could be even worse if Democrats waste energy disarming communities most in danger of attack and individuals least protected by law enforcement. Violence that gun control groups wish to lower can only be truly solved through increased social equality. Just as church and state are best kept separate, so also should a toxic president’s legacy and the human right of self defense.
Photo credit: Jonathon Levinson OPB 2019 (Eliot with RPK and Rosie S. with AR-15.)