Editorials of The Times

Posted November 8, 2018 10:11 p.m. EST

Will Congress Toughen Gun Laws?

This is what it’s come to — there are now Americans who have lived through two gun massacres. Many of the people who were able to flee a California bar where a man shot dozens of people late Wednesday night had also survived an attack last year in which a gunman in a Las Vegas hotel fired down on a music festival, killing 58 people. But at least one of the Las Vegas survivors was among the dead at the bar.

The gunman on Wednesday opened fire in a crowded country-music bar, a popular hangout for local college students. He shot a security guard first and killed at least 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy who responded to the attack. More than 20 were believed to have been wounded.

The carnage came just 11 days after the fatal shooting of 11 worshippers at synagogue in Pittsburgh, nine months after 17 people were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, one year after 26 were killed in a shooting spree at a church in Sutherland, Texas, and 13 months after the massacre in Las Vegas.

Americans are watching — and now some are even experiencing — versions of this same horror over and over, hoping that someone will eventually figure out how to break the cycle. Could that hero be President Donald Trump and the House Democrats?


This latest atrocity took place the day after an election that gave Democrats control of one chamber of Congress. Addressing the new political landscape on Wednesday, both Trump and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, emphasized how ready they were to cooperate on matters of shared concern. Pelosi said Democrats “have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can,” while Trump expressed enthusiasm for working in “a beautiful bipartisan-type situation.”

If Pelosi and Trump are sincere about coming together to fix problems the public cares about, there seems hardly a more pressing place to start than reducing gun violence.

This would not require much of a shift for Democrats. Pelosi had already planned an early push to tighten background checks for gun purchases — a move favored by a vast majority of Americans, including most National Rifle Association members. Other popular measures previously introduced in Congress, like raising the minimum purchase age to 21 from 18 or banning bump stocks, which convert guns to automatic weapons, could be revisited as well.

For his part, Trump has been erratic on the subject of gun safety. In February, post-Parkland, he held a memorable meeting with lawmakers at which he voiced support for a “comprehensive” package that included “powerful” background checks. He called for raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles, seemed open to a Democratic plan to ban assault weapons, and slammed Republican lawmakers for being “afraid of the NRA.”

When that upset the NRA, the president backpedaled. But clearly the impulse to do more lies somewhere inside of him, perhaps waiting for the right political moment to arise.

In Tuesday’s election results, there’s evidence that the moment is now. Dozens of candidates supported by gun-safety groups carried the day in states including Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Georgia’s typically Republican 6th District, the Democrat, Lucy McBath, whose teenage son was fatally shot in 2012, won on a platform of combating gun violence. Washington state voters approved a ballot initiative aimed at imposing some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Exit polling found that 60 percent of voters nationwide support tougher gun laws, while opposition hovers in the mid-30s.

This is not to say that this issue is no longer a core element in the endless red-blue culture war. And the NRA, which remains a rich, powerful force in our political system, certainly intends to keep it that way.

But Trump is the ideal president to tackle the issue. He enjoys the adoration of his party’s culturally conservative base to a degree few politicians even approach. If inclined, he could burn just a small fraction of that capital on promoting some of the common-sense gun measures desired by a majority of the electorate.

Better still, since Trump has a taste for combat and prides himself on shaking things up, what could be more disruptive than pressuring lawmakers to grow a spine and attack gun violence?

As legacies go, Trump — and Pelosi and her colleagues — could do far worse.

Let Jim Acosta Do His Job

Relations between president and press have always been nettlesome, as they should be. The role of the news media in questioning and challenging power is as fundamental to democracy as the ballot. But however maddening presidents past have found reporters to be, none has wandered so far beyond accepted boundaries as President Donald Trump.

Granted, suspending the White House press credential of CNN’s Jim Acosta may not seem to rank high in the catalog of outrage that Trump has filled, especially on the heels of a midterm election in which the president’s demagogy played so central a role and coinciding as it did with his forcing the resignation of an attorney general who dared put law and propriety above craven loyalty.

Trump has amply demonstrated his inability to deal with criticism or tough questions in any way other than to immediately, angrily and crudely counterattack. Acosta has regularly provoked the president to fury, and he did so again on Wednesday with questions about the Central American migrant “caravan” and the Russia investigation.

Anger is one thing, but in suspending Acosta’s press credential, Trump signaled that in his view, asking hard questions — the most basic function of a reporter — disqualifies journalists from attending White House briefings. That Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, would then use the demonstrably false claim that Acosta had laid “his hands on a young woman” as a pretext to throw him out compounds the cynicism.

If Sanders was so offended by that physical contact, what did she have to say when her boss praised as “my kind of guy” Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana, who was sentenced to anger management classes and community service for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last spring?

What is most alarming in the Acosta incident is its illustration of the extent of Trump’s ignorance of the role of a free press in American tradition and democracy, and of the president’s role in defending it. Nobody would argue that the news media is infallible, and that, in the terrible polarization of American society, news reporters would feel targeted for attack for doing their jobs. Acosta, for one, has been outspoken in his frustration with the White House press operation.

But it is Trump, with his incessant demonization of “fake news” and inflammatory characterization of news organizations as the “enemy of the people,” who has systematically and dangerously done everything in his power to undermine a free and independent press. That someone like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who surely knows better, joins in bashing the press underscores the effectiveness of Trump’s poison.

Trump would no doubt prefer that every member of the White House press corps be like Sean Hannity or Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News personalities who happily joined the president onstage at his last pre-election campaign rally in Missouri on Monday. Hannity has long been an unapologetic booster of Trump, but even his colleagues and managers at Fox were aghast at his participation in the rally, at which he went so far as to join in attacking “fake news” reporters at the back of the room, among whom was a Fox News White House correspondent, Kristin Fisher.

Trump is not likely to temper his rhetoric. But those he listens to, including Sanders, Graham and the executives at Fox News, should try to impress on him the danger of confounding loyalty to Donald Trump with loyalty to the Constitution and to democracy.

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