FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump forcefully defended the constitutional right to bear arms here Saturday and argued that the nine people shot and killed this week in an Oregon community college might have survived had they, too, been armed.
“If you had a teacher or somebody with guns in that room, you would’ve been a hell of a lot better off,” Trump told a large crowd at a raucous rally in this conservative Nashville suburb. Reading aloud the Second Amendment of the Constitution, Trump drew hearty applause from the Tennessee crowd. “This is about self-defense, plain and simple,” Trump said.
The billionaire businessman added, “I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Somebody attacks me, they’re gonna be shocked.”
The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Trump has begun positioning himself as a fierce champion of gun rights, an important issue among Republican primary voters. Near the end of an hour-long speech here, he read from a paper he said was his new guns policy, which is in line with GOP orthodoxy and consists of enforcing existing laws, including background checks and the right to carry, as well as reforming the mental health system.
“It’s not the guns,” Trump said. “It’s the people, these sick people.”
Later, Trump told reporters that he was a member of the National Rifle Association and had consulted the group in developing his policy.
Trump told reporters he watched President Obama’s response to the Oregon massacre, in which the president was visibly pained and frustrated with the lack of congressional action to toughen gun laws.
“He’s very divisive,” Trump said of Obama. “You have a lot of people who feel very strongly that they need protection and they agree with the Second Amendment, and they want the Second Amendment to stay.”
Trump also criticized former Florida governor Jeb Bush for his remarks Friday about the Oregon shooting.
“He used the words ‘stuff happens,’ and I thought it was a very bad phrase to use," Trump told reporters. "I actually was watching that and thought, 'Wow, how does he use that phrase?'"
Trump’s rally was attended by a capacity crowd of 1,500 inside The Factory, an industrial-chic venue in Franklin. More than 1,000 other supporters, whom fire officials would not allow inside the hall, listened from a rainy parking lot outside. He briefly addressed the overflow crowd and posed for selfies with some fans.
Trump gave his audiences a signature performance, with a heavy focus on his standing in public opinion polls. “Everybody likes me now,” he gushed. Trump likened his large crowd a week ago in Oklahoma City to Pope Francis’s reception in Philadelphia, where hundreds of thousands of people attended his final Mass.
Trump also focused on what he sees as his virtues over his competitors for the nomination. At one point, he asked the crowd, “Who has better hair? Trump or [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio? You tell me. Trump! That’s not a close one.”
But Trump had some other material, too. He said he recently met with a group of pastors and one talked to him about the so-called war on Christmas – the religious right’s push to get society to prioritize “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.”
“You can’t use ‘Christmas’ anymore,” Trump lamented. “I will tell you one thing: If I win, you’re going to be using ‘Merry Christmas’ all the time.”
Trump repeatedly steered his speech toward foreign affairs. He lambasted the nuclear agreement with Iran and said U.S. negotiators, including Obama, were “incompetent.” And he appeared to lay blame for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is now a Democratic presidential candidate. The 2012 terrorist attacks were “perhaps thanks to Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Correct, correct, correct.”
Trump reiterated his threat that, if elected, he would force any refugees from Syria who are living in the United States to return to their home country. He said that most of the Syrian migrants he has seen on television are men, many of them young and strong, and posited that they could be Islamic State terrorists trying to infiltrate the United States.
“You could have a Trojan horse situation,” Trump said, although he allowed that most refugees “probably” were not terrorists.
Trump called on the United States and other nations, including Germany and the Persian Gulf states, to join together to help create and sponsor a "safe zone" of land inside Syria where refugees can live peacefully.
“We can’t take care of everybody,” he concluded. “We just can’t do it anymore.”