In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, Donald Trump has done something that no other Republican president would have done (except maybe John Kasich). In a series of moves that seem calculated to test the strength of support from his base, the president has endorsed a series of new gun control proposals.
Trump’s left turn on guns began with instructions to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to “propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.” The move would use new interpretations of existing laws to ban bump stock devices such as the one used by Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people in Las Vegas in October 2017.
The proposed executive bump stock ban was quickly followed by a presidential Twitter endorsement of raising the legal age to purchase long guns to 21 from 18, expanding background checks to include mental health histories and arming teachers with concealed weapons. Federal law currently mandates that buyers of pistols be at least 21 and establishes schools as “gun-free” zones.
The reaction from Republicans to Trump’s embrace of stricter gun controls has been muted. In a town hall meeting in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) signaled a willingness to accept the increase to the minimum age as well as new limits on the size of magazines, but opposed the idea of arming teachers.
President Trump said that many congressmen and pro-gun activists had indicated support for his proposals, particularly the idea of expanding background checks. “There's a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done ... including at the [National Rifle Association],” Trump said in a White House meeting with law enforcement officials.
The effectiveness of Trump’s proposals is likely to be mixed. A You Tube video shows how gun owners can make their own bump stock device from commonly available parts and underage school shooters typically obtain their weapons illegally or steal them from their parents. On the other hand, including mental health information in background checks would have prevented many spree killers from buying guns legally.
Prior to 2016, the idea that conservatives would rally around a president who openly supported expanded gun control would have been laughable. Then again, the idea of Republicans nominating a president who once openly favored the assault weapons ban and waiting periods was also once unthinkable. No longer.