The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Black Americans want new gun laws to curb gun violence. Trump offers more police.

President Trump signs an executive order on health care in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington on Oct. 12. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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In an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, President Trump was asked how his policies would “help minorities that are still struggling.”

“Well, first of all,” Trump replied, “minorities want police protection more than anybody. They need it more than anybody. What’s going on is crazy. And you look at some of these inner cities where it’s just out of control, and remember, I was saying things like we will — you know, what do you have to lose? We will fix it. We’re going to fix it. But one of the things we’re doing very strongly now is the inner cities.”

His interviewer, Sean Hannity, had mentioned violence in Chicago before the question. Trump continued on that theme.

“Now Chicago is out of control. I don’t know what they’re doing in Chicago to have this many shootings and this many killings and all of the different things that are going on. This is not like it’s the United States of America.”
“And pure and simple that’s bad management. That’s bad politics. It’s incredible. And then you talk to them, ‘Why aren’t you doing something?’ They don’t even want to talk to you about it. It’s really insulting to our nation. And whether you take on the NFL or you take on Chicago and some of our other cities, there shouldn’t be murders like this. And, you know, we have incredible police in this country. They could stop it if they were allowed to do their jobs, they could stop it.”

Referring specifically to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore, the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida and to unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of Michael Brown, Hannity said that “every two to four years the Democrats will play the race card and I resent it as a conservative.”

The Democrats, Trump said, bore the blame for violence, having “ruled the inner cities for 100 years. This is their rule.” An example of someone who approached crime correctly? Rudolph W. Giuliani, in New York City.

That’s far more context than we need for our purposes here, but we can dispatch with much of it quickly.

First of all, Giuliani gets undue credit for the drop in crime in New York City.

Second, saying that expressing frustration and anger over the deaths of young black men is “playing the race card” is . . . remarkable.

Third, there are few things Trump could have said to more rapidly display that he doesn’t understand the point of the protests in the NFL is by mentioning those protests — in an admittedly hard-to-parse phrasing — and then pivoting to “we have incredible police in this country.” We do — but a large part of what those protests are intended to do is to draw attention to tensions between black Americans and law enforcement that are often systemic in nature.

This brings us back to Trump’s main solution for addressing gun violence: “Minorities want police protection more than anybody.”

On Thursday, new polling was released by Quinnipiac University that asked Americans about a broad range of possible new gun legislation.

Black Americans are much more likely than white or Hispanic Americans to say that they are personally worried about the threat of gun violence to their safety.

But it is also the case that black Americans are more likely to support a range of policies meant to limit the possession of firearms and that they generally believe that new restrictions would improve public safety.

More than half the country agrees with all of those proposed bills. On six of the eight measures proposed, black Americans support the policy more strongly than do white Americans. Two-thirds of black respondents think expanded background checks, an assault weapon ban and a ban on sales to those convicted of violent crimes will reduce the amount of gun violence.

Black Americans are also more likely to say that it’s too easy to buy a gun and that allowing more people to own firearms would make the country less safe. Black and Hispanic respondents were overwhelmingly likely to say that Congress needs to take stronger action on gun laws.

That’s a lot of context, too, but it gets to a critical point. The two proposed solutions are not mutually exclusive: Americans can want more police protection and tougher gun laws. But Trump champions the police as a solution to nonwhite communities even as he dismisses their concerns about how law enforcement interacts with them. He has dismissed efforts to implement new gun laws, even though black Americans — and Americans overall — often overwhelmingly support a broad range of specific measures.

As my colleague Eugene Scott put it, Trump doesn’t get how to talk to and about people of color. Democrats may have run the “inner cities” for a century, but Trump now runs the United States. He should start paying attention to what black and Hispanic Americans say they want, not just what he assumes they do.