The gun lobby has long stoked its constituents with the nightmare scenario of a president who’d swipe their God-given right to own weapons. The NRA frequently warned that Barack Obama was “coming for our guns,” and that Hillary Clinton would “come for your guns.” The group cringed at the prospect of a president saying something like this: “I like taking the guns early ... Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
But lo and behold, that’s what Trump said on Wednesday.
Since we’re stuck with a regime that’s historically incompetent, malevolent, corrupt, and security-challenged, we’ve got to get our laughs whenever we can. And Trump’s gun-grabbing riff, which fell from his mouth during a live TV gig with emissaries from Capitol Hill, fully qualifies as roll-on-the-floor hilarity - if only because of the gun guardians’ subsequent freakout.
In the words of Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America, Trump “has become the gun-grabber in chief ... an enemy of the Second Amendment.”
In the wake of a harrowing domestic event - in this case, the Parkland massacre - a president is typically tasked with taking the lead, talking knowledgeably and pushing policy solutions. We were led to believe (though only a minority of voters believed it) that Trump possessed such traits. But what’s manifestly obvious, as underscored by his summit with lawmakers, is that when Trump is positioned at the crossroads of politics and policy, he is lost.
He sat there, free-associating about gun solutions, “thinking” out loud, seeming at times to endorse various Democratic ideas (raising the age ceiling on sales, maybe expanding background checks, maybe banning assault weapons) without actually committing to anything.
The most fascinating moment of the event involved the issue of guns being taken from potentially dangerous people. Vice President Pence mentioned that some states have passed “red flag” laws, which empower the cops to seize guns after obtaining a court order.
As Pence explained, those laws “allow due process, so no one’s rights are trampled ... the ability to go to court, obtain an order, and collect not only firearms but any weapons in the possession” of the person who’s certified as dangerous.
That’s when Trump chimed in: “Or, Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court ... I like taking the guns early ... Take the guns first, go through the process second.”
Well. We can only imagine how many articles of impeachment would be drafted if Obama had ever endorsed pre-emptive gun confiscation. Sean Hannity’s head would’ve spun with centrifugal force.
Granted, the Gun Owners of America guy did go ballistic, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch went on TV to rebuke Trump for “talking about punishing innocent Americans, stripping from them constitutional rights without due process,” and a Republican senator or two got upset. For instance, Thom Tillis of North Carolina said, “I don’t ever believe there’s a time in this country where due process can be dismissed. Period.”
But mostly, folks in the GOP just seemed exasperated - and rightly so, because they know that Trump wasn’t suddenly embracing a radical lefty policy to grab guns. They darn well know, as do we, that whatever Trump says at any given moment is merely symptomatic of the mush between his ears.
As a senior Republican Senate aide told the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, “This is why you don’t do high-stakes, hot-button negotiation on live TV with someone who doesn’t know or care about details.” And as Sen. Tillis said about Trump, “He’s not a legal scholar ... I know you heard the words. I just don’t believe in my heart of hearts that’s exactly what he meant.” Which was tantamount to saying that the so-called leader’s policy beliefs are illusory, that his words have no value.
Another Republican aide told the Weekly Standard, “At some point, someone will tell the president what he endorsed, and it will be like the meeting never happened.” That sounds about right. By tomorrow someone in Trump media will insist that Trump never actually said it, or that Obama was actually the one who said it.
Unless maybe it was a plan cooked up by Hillary in one of her emails. Some people are saying.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at email@example.com.