Background checks for gun-buyers are good policy, good politics for Trump
In the weeks since the tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump has kept the pundits guessing as to whether he would throw his weight behind new gun-safety measures.
Word is, Trump is going to present a series of proposals next month that could break the long-standing partisan stalemate on the issue. Predicting the president’s behavior is always a sucker’s bet, but the majority of Americans who favor the adoption of more expansive background checks and so-called “red-flag” laws have to hope that Trump will not be deterred from moving forward.
There are good reasons for Trump to press reform.
A president who defines himself as a populist should understand that Americans want their leaders to do something — to try to stop the plague of mass shootings that continue to occur with numbing regularity. True, any set of new laws won’t definitively prevent more such tragedies, and to think otherwise is a liberal fallacy. But it is also true that the country is sick of the partisan paralysis that has prevented the adoption of measures that would at least nibble away at the margins of our national gun-violence problem.
Trump’s critics will frame his support for background checks and similar measures as political pandering intended to win over suburban voters who abandoned the Republican Party in last year’s midterm elections. But he was elected because of dissatisfaction with the failures of the political class. He understands that ignoring the public’s desire for action is bad policy as well as bad politics.
Fears that these proposals will annul Second Amendment rights are also unfounded. The National Rifle Association believes that any new law, no matter how carefully crafted, is a step down the slippery slope toward the abolition of gun rights. The outfit is right to believe that this is the objective of many on the left, despite their avowals to the contrary. But background checks and red-flag laws are a rational response to a real problem that shouldn’t continue to be ignored merely because liberals are disingenuous about their ultimate goals.
Rather than providing momentum to those who want to ban certain types of weapons, let alone make more sweeping attacks on gun rights, Trump’s proposals could do the opposite. What is needed now is an approach that can reflect both the national consensus about the inviolability of the Second Amendment right to bear arms — and the necessity for our leaders to stop acting as if mass casualties from attacks by insane shooters are simply a fact of modern American life that must be accepted.
Measures that stop those who shouldn’t be allowed to own guns from getting them might inconvenience law-abiding citizens. It’s also true that red-flag laws could set up a process that could be abused by the government. But it is still possible to find rational solutions to these problems, solutions that would protect individual rights while still providing a way for keeping guns out of the hands of hateful lunatics.
Yet the most important reason for Trump to not hesitate is that he is probably the only person who can get anything done on gun safety.
While the NRA has demonstrated that it can mobilize members to persuade the GOP to oppose gun legislation, during the course of his presidency Trump has earned the trust of the conservative base. Republicans have quailed before these activists, but the president can’t be intimidated. Trump can provide cover for members of the House and Senate who might otherwise think inaction is the better part of valor.
It’s possible that Trump’s proposals will fail. Democrats who are thinking more about 2020 than the common good might oppose them, on the grounds that they fall far short of the left’s desire to discard the Second Amendment. As is the case on immigration reform, progressives prefer to keep the dismal status quo, so they can use the issue as a political cudgel. But voters remember that Democrats have demanded action for years and signaled a willingness to work together with Republicans on the issue.
It’s time for Trump to call the left’s bluff. If he does, the country as well as his re-election chances will be the better for it.
Jonathan Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review.
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