If President Trump is serious, he must lead on gun control

Of all the good news pointing to the possibility of one day finally achieving some substantial gun control legislation in Washington, none was more surprising or potentially significant than President Trump’s demand, during a televised meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, that he wanted action.

“I’d rather have you come down on the strong side than the weak side. The weak side would be much easier, but I’d much rather have you come up with a strong, strong bill and really strong on background checks,” said the president.

Jaw-dropping was Trump’s exchange with Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy. The freshman Democrat, facing re-election, has set amongst his highest priorities trying to reduce gun violence, and the scourge of mass shootings, only to see Republicans block his efforts time and again. With Trump’s election and a Congress firmly in Republican hands, it seemed that would not change.

According to Open Secrets, the National Rifle Association invested about $30 million to back Trump's campaign, targeting key states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, reassuring gun voters that Trump would have their backs, while the election of Hillary Clinton would threaten their Second Amendment rights.

Until now, indications were the NRA had invested wisely. Its convention treated Trump as a conquering hero when he addressed the group last April in Atlanta.

“Only one candidate in the general election came to speak to you, and that candidate is now the president of the United States, standing before you. You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” Trump said.

“To the NRA, I can proudly say I will never, ever let you down,” he said in the same speech.

It appears he just did; not that we’re complaining.

There was Trump telling Murphy he should join three Senate colleagues — John Cornyn, R-Texas; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., — in drafting a gun bill that closes huge loopholes in the FBI background check system for gun buyers. In the meeting, Trump backed improved reporting so that people with a history of domestic violence or mental health issues do not get guns, and limiting gun sales to those 21 and older.

In essence Trump is inviting Manchin and Toomey to revive legislation drafted in 2013 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, sprinkle in some of the improved background checking Murphy and Cornyn have proposed, and make it stronger with the age 21 restriction. Get it passed, bring it to his desk, and he’ll sign it. That was the message. Remarkable.

If authorities make a mistake, the president said, it is better to overreact than not act.

“I like taking the guns early,” if there are red flags, said Trump. “Take the guns first, go through the due process second.”

These positions, particularly the last, are anathema to the NRA and many of its members. And while the president brushed off the importance of due process perhaps too cavalierly, we embrace the sentiment on taking action before it is too late. That could have prevented the Parkland, Fla. killings in which 14 students and three educators were murdered.

And give the president credit, he went right at the heart of why gun control has been so difficult to achieve.

“Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified … they have great power over you people. They have less power over me,” said Trump as Republican lawmakers listened, stone-faced.

Of course, Trump has signaled change before, only to disappoint. He keeps moving the goalpost when it comes to legislation to provide protection for so-called Dreamers, for example, those young people brought to the country unlawfully as children by immigrant parents.

Murphy reminded the president his strong gun-control statements won’t be enough. If he is serious, Trump must push his proposed agenda, twist a few arms and overcome the powerful NRA.

“Mr. President, it’s going to have to be you that brings Republicans to the table on this because right now, the gun lobby will stop it in its tracks,” said the Connecticut senator.

Maybe the youth movement across the country — begun by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — demanding that Congress do something about too-easy access to weapons suited for mass killings, got the president’s attention.

If so, congratulations to them. Now their next assignment: Keep up the pressure.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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