Political News

On guns, Trump is very much a normal Republican

Posted October 5

— For all his political idiosyncrasies, when it comes to the prospect of tightened gun restrictions, President Donald Trump mostly sounds like a standard-issue Washington Republican.

In his remarks on Monday morning, hours after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Trump did not mention firearms except to describe the killer once as a "gunman" and then a "shooter." Three days later, after visiting the city and meeting with first responders and victims, he has remained mum on firearm policy questions.

With Republicans now considering legislation to ban the sale of "bump stocks," a device allegedly used by the Las Vegas gunman to effectively make fully automatic firearms from his legal semi-automatics, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday the administration is "open to having that conversation" -- but went no further than the National Rifle Association did in a statement released minutes earlier.

The careful and complementary language from Trump, his team, Republicans and gun control opponents stands out at a time when the White House and top GOP officials in Washington have taken increasingly frequent potshots at each other over everything from health care to foreign policy.

Trump's tweets in the hours after the attack were nearly indistinguishable from the messages sent out by GOP congressional leaders.

"My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting," Trump wrote. "God bless you!"

For Trump, the message was unusually mild. But it arrived in virtual lockstep with the tweets and statements released by his Republican frenemies on Capitol Hill.

After Trump's brief address, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell posted a longer statement, saying in part, "What happened in Las Vegas is shocking, it's tragic, and -- for those affected and their families -- it's devastating. It's hard to even imagine their pain. I hope they will know that we are all praying for them now."

Like the President, McConnell did not mention guns or gun violence. Same for House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"To the people of Las Vegas and to the families of the victims, we are with you during this time," he said in a statement. "The whole country stands united in our shock, in our condolences, and in our prayers."

The stark partisan divide could be summed up neatly in a pair of tweets sent on Monday, one from a Republican senator from a red state, another from his blue state Democratic colleague.

"Our prayers are with Las Vegas and all of those affected by last night's devastating attack," Tennessee's Lamar Alexander wrote a little before noon. About 40 minutes later, Connecticut's Chris Murphy tweeted, "To my colleagues: your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers. None of this ends unless we do something to stop it."

Trump and top administration officials have hewed closely with the Alexander approach. Talking points distributed by the White House asked for surrogates to demur when confronted with gun policy questions: "Let's gather the facts before we make sweeping policy arguments for curtailing the Second Amendment. The investigation is still in its earliest stages," was the wording of one pre-packaged answer.

Both the President and press secretary Sarah Sanders have sought to avoid any specific comments on potential measures the government could take to curb or help prevent future attacks.

"There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place," Sanders said the day after the killings, "but that's not the place that we're in at this moment."

Forty-eight hours later, that unilateral pause was still in effect.

"We're not going to talk about that today," Trump told reporters at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada trauma center on Wednesday. "We won't talk about that." Sanders on Thursday, apart from a mild nod to the ongoing "bump stock" discussions, refused to delve much further into any broader policy implications.

But even her stated openness to engaging on the "bump stock" issue fell in line with Republican leadership and the NRA, which allowed in a statement that "devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations." Ryan, the GOP leader in the House, also said earlier he would be open to such measures -- a big deal in a place that hasn't passed new restrictions on guns in more than a decade.

Trump himself has yet to weigh in on the potential Republican measure, or a bill introduced on Wednesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, that would ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump fire stocks and similar accessories. (During an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday morning, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway only mentioned "bump stocks" in order to blame the Obama administration for not more aggressively seeking to regulate them.)

Trump's current position is a departure from the more moderate approach he promoted in his 2000 book, "The America We Deserve."

"I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun," he wrote (the assault weapons ban expired in 2004). "With today's Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record."

But Trump's attitude has shifted right and hardened over time. He was endorsed in May 2016 by the National Rifle Association and frequently promised during the campaign to turn back any efforts to further gun restrictions. When asked about his earlier statements during a Republican primary debate in March 2016, he executed what Politfact later called a "full flop."

"I don't support it anymore," Trump said. "I do not support the ban on assault" weapons.

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