This may sound perverse, but I’m sort of glad that Donald Trump has done the traditional cave on gun-safety legislation. It took him a little more than two weeks after El Paso and Dayton to strongly suggest that he was no longer interested in strengthening background checks — noting that “people don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now” — or pursuing a federal red flag law, even though he has deeply endorsed the premise that mental health is the issue in mass shootings, not easy access to assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.
After all, Trump said he was “very, very concerned with the Second Amendment, more so than most presidents would be.” But apparently he’s not quite as concerned about gun violence as, say, the previous president was.
It’s pure Trump. As we have seen repeatedly, Trump will react to a horrendous shooting — say, by a white nationalist who would drive 10 hours to kill random Latinos in El Paso — by saying something must be done. He then talks to NRA leaders, who inform him that nothing must be done. And, voila, nothing is done, even though the Dayton shooter was able to kill nine people in under 30 seconds. The Atlantic just reported that Trump was all ready to give a big Rose Garden speech on gun control before his talks with the NRA, and that he called Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday to tell him universal background checks are off the table.
I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I’m guessing you can be very concerned about the Second Amendment and still find a way to limit weapons that can kill nine people in under 30 seconds. In fact, Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for a ban on assault weapons: These “weapons are for war; they are not for sport. Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time possible.”
Mullen added, “If we do nothing, many more innocent lives will be needlessly sacrificed — and the blood of those innocents will continue to flow upon our hands.”
Speaking of the supposedly-weakened-by-scandal NRA and innocent blood, KDVR’s Joe St. George caught up with Sen. Cory Gardner and asked him whether he supported H.R 8., the universal background check bill passed in the U.S. House months ago. Gardner, who is among congressional leaders in contributions from the NRA, couldn’t quite bring himself to answer, saying instead that when the bill got a Senate hearing, there’d be discussion about it.
Of course, as Gardner knows, Mitch McConnell has blocked the bill from getting a Senate hearing and will apparently continue to block the bill, given Trump’s apparent cave. And Gardner will dodge the question so long as he’s not faced with an actual vote.
There was reason to hope that Trump would follow through this time. He alone could have a Nixon-to-China effect on laws to combat gun violence, as he has on so many other issues that Republicans once routinely rejected. I’d guess that although the base would be angry, they’re not going anywhere, and that Trump could possibly win over a few reluctant suburban Republicans.
But the reason I’m glad he hasn’t backed some modest compromise version of a bill is that in 2020, gun violence could get a true hearing — in the presidential race, in the Colorado Senate race.
Democratic candidates are pretty much unified in support for new gun legislation. Their plans aren’t all the same. Some are calling for buybacks. Some are calling for licensing. Most of them favor a renewed ban on assault rifles. Joe Biden will remind us that the much-maligned (and deservedly so) crime reform law that Biden supported in 1994 also included a 10-year ban on assault weapons.
I saw this stunning factoid in an ABC News story. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, is the only one of the 20-odd major Democratic presidential candidates whose state has not been witness to a mass shooting. ABC defined a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were killed, not including the shooter. While it’s true that mass shootings make up a small percentage of gun deaths in the country, they focus the mind on the issue, at least briefly.
We shouldn’t need any focusing in Colorado. We have too much history. If John Hickenlooper gets into the Senate race, he will almost certainly make his record on gun control a campaign centerpiece, just as he did in his failed presidential run. And if Hickenlooper may have embellished his early role, he’s all in now. And most, if not all, of the leading Democrats already in the Senate primary — Mike Johnston, Andrew Romanoff, Alice Madden and others — strongly favor gun control legislation. Gardner pointedly does not.
Nationally, Democrats have been warned off for years against going all in on gun control. It is widely thought that guns were a leading factor in Al Gore’s loss to George Bush in 2000. But that was then. In Colorado, when Democrats passed enhanced background checks and limits on magazine capacity in 2013, Republicans went after a few of the most vulnerable legislators with recalls. We’re seeing recalls again this year after the legislature passed a red-flag law. The fact that those recalls are ill considered and will almost certainly fail must trouble Gardner, who already trails in early polls against Hickenlooper and also against generic Democrats.
The issue is now everywhere. I mean, 9News’s Kyle Clark reports that the Douglas County superintendent of schools has warned charter schools that if they arm teachers, they are not welcome in his district. The last Colorado school shooting took place at a charter school in Douglas County.
There’s more. The Washington Post reports that a new poll by Republican Main Street Partnership, which the Post calls “a premier Republican polling firm,” surveyed 1,000 registered voters in five suburban House districts, including Colorado’s Sixth in the eastern Denver-Aurora metro area. Here are the numbers among women in those districts on guns:
— 72% favor stricter guns laws.
— 55% believe stricter guns laws would help prevent gun violence.
— 90% support universal background checks.
— 88% would support a 48-hour waiting period.
— 84% back a national red-flag law.
— 76% would ban purchase and use of semi-automatic assault-style weapons like the AR-15.
— 72% would support banning sale or possession of high-capacity ammo magazines which allow shooting of more than 10 bullets before reloading.
When asked which issue, among six, their representative should most focus on, 30% of the women put gun safety as No. 1. But these overwhelming numbers are meaningless unless these issues are central to an election. If Democrats don’t wimp out, 2020 could be the year that actually happens.