AT the time of this writing, President Donald Trump has been in office less than a month—a situation that has caught many by surprise.
Gun rights advocacy groups are claiming much of the credit for Trump’s victory (or at least as importantly, for Clinton’s defeat)—a claim not easy to dismiss out of hand. It would certainly be difficult to argue that in an election this hard-fought, this bitterly contested, this narrowly won and lost, the huge and desperate efforts of these groups and their members did not play some critical role. (The NRA’s $30 million+ expenditure in the race set a record for the group and exceeded the amount spent on the Republicans’ behalf by any other group, aside from a few Super PACs.)
And a defeated Hillary Clinton is certainly a priceless prize for gun rights advocates, particularly given the next President’s likely opportunity to shape the Supreme Court. The Clinton campaign’s declaration months ago that she believed the Supreme Court’s Heller decision was “wrongly decided” indicated an interest on her part to end the court’s recognition of a Constitutionally guaranteed right of the individual to own firearms.
Coming from someone who would have appointed at least one Supreme Court Justice, gun rights advocates were understandably shaken.
But the gun rights groups aren’t showing any signs of being content to play defense. With not only the Republican acquisition of the White House, but their retention of the Senate (a seemingly very dicey proposition only a short time ago) and House (expected before the election, but few treated it as a sure thing), gun rights groups are declaring, “It’s our turn now,” and making sure the Republican Party, from Trump down, is aware of gun owners’ contributions to their electoral success.
Gleefully written articles explore how to prioritize gun rights advocates’ wish list: National concealed carry reciprocity? Suppressors off the NFA list? Repealing Obama’s anti-gun executive orders? Repealing the noxious Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which bans private possession of machine guns manufactured or imported after that date, even for those willing and able to jump through the NFA hoops?
Many seem to be treating all that and more as in the bag already.
Well, maybe, maybe not.
For one thing, although the Republicans held onto the majority in the Senate, it’s a slender majority—certainly not filibuster-proof. And Democrats may be inclined to use the filibuster, liberally, especially given the Republicans’ plan, publicly announced prior to the election (when a Democrat President seemed nearly inevitable and a Democrat Senate majority pretty likely), to use the filibuster to thwart Clinton at every turn.
In other words, it seems legitimately open to question whether or not Republicans can accomplish some of those things, even if they’re inclined to go to the effort and expend the political capital to do so.
And that they will be inclined to do so seems far from certain. It’s not exactly unusual for a politician, fresh off a hard and narrowly won victory, to “forget” the people who made that victory possible, and the promises made to them.
Trump, although styling himself as the “non-politician,” might nevertheless embrace that particular tool of the politician early and often.
And Trump has never been what anyone would call a “Second Amendment absolutist.” In 2000, he even wrote about his support for banning so-called “assault weapons” and for longer waiting periods on gun purchases.
Certainly it’s possible that his apparent change of heart on those issues is genuine, and perhaps even permanent, and strong enough to hold up even if he sees a personal advantage in changing sides yet again.
Even after his ostensible conversion, though, with tens of millions of dollars from the NRA backing his political ambitions, he continues to voice his support for the “stop and frisk” policies from the dark days of Mayor Mike Bloomberg in Trump’s NYC, but now Trump would apparently like to see such policies implemented on a national scale.
Would they overwhelmingly concentrate on African-Americans and Hispanics, as was the case in Bloomberg’s New York? Does that matter? Perhaps even more alarmingly, Trump supports bestowing upon the federal government the power to block firearm sales to “suspected terrorists,” without a conviction, an indictment, or even an arrest on formal charges.
But let’s imagine that Trump becomes a true warrior for the Second Amendment. Let’s imagine he truly understands what “shall not be infringed” means, and commits himself to that ideal. Then everything is perfect, right?
Again, well, maybe.
In 1997, gun rights advocate Jeff Snyder wrote one of a series of brilliant essays that were later packaged into a book, A Nation of Cowards: The Ethics of Gun Control. That particular essay was called “Walter Mitty’s Second Amendment,” referencing the 1939 James Thurber short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” about a meek, henpecked man who constantly daydreamed of himself as an extraordinarily brave, tough, and resourceful hero.
Snyder’s piece imagines a nation with a proud history of liberty, and where the government recognizes an untrammeled right of the people to keep and bear arms, but where the people are so pleased to be permitted the means to overthrow a tyrannical government that they don’t bother to recognize the tyranny as it slowly grinds them under its boot.
A President with truly enormous ambitions, similarly copious self-esteem, and a history of having—and using—near absolute executive power (does any of this sound familiar?) might draw some interesting lessons from this hypothetical nation.
What if he not only made no attempt to reduce the people’s access to effective firepower, but was seen to work to expand that access? Would he not then become a hero among gun rights advocates, even if he made some inroads on their freedoms in other areas?
If so, this hypothetical leader would need not fear the wrath of an armed populace, because he could be confident this wrath would never come. It cannot come, unless that armed populace has a line in the sand from which they will not retreat, and which they will, if need be, defend with the arms they possess, and with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
If tyranny comes to America, it won’t be stopped by guns. Brave, principled, committed, and aware people using guns will stop it.
Let’s be certain that’s what we are.