Donald Trump loves the 2nd Amendment, according to Donald Trump. One of the indisputable conservative credentials that he can boast is that he's got a permit to carry a firearm in New York City, and on the campaign trail, he's frequently mentioned his support for the right to bear arms. (That support has evolved over time, though.) "I am a big believer in the 2nd Amendment," he told CBS's John Dickerson in December.
I mean, the guy loves the Constitution. In an interview last week, CNN's Anderson Cooper asked Trump whether he would consider the document's interpretation as something that could change over time.
"I see the Constitution as set in stone," he said. "I see it as one of the great documents of all time." (He added: "I also see it as something that says you're going to sit down and make deals.")
Trump loves the Constitution — sees it set in stone. He loves the 2nd Amendment — big believer.
But the 1st Amendment? Ehhh.
Here's where Trump is on the 1st Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof(1); or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press(2); or the right of the people peaceably to assemble(3) and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(1) We'll note at the outset that the 1st Amendment curtails Congress, not the president, because Congress is the legislative arm of the U.S. government. But presidential candidates spend months outlining their policy priorities, with the hope that they'll have a Congress that will help make those priorities law.
Trump suggested in November (even before he called for a ban on Muslims entering the country) that he would "strongly consider" closing down some mosques — a policy that, if enacted, seems as though it would clearly contravene the prohibition against "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
"I would hate to do it," Trump said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "but it's something that you're going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred — the absolute hatred — is coming from these areas."
Trump supporters might defend the idea by arguing that Trump meant only mosques where terrorism was being plotted. Indeed, Trump's argument followed from his saying that mosques should be surveilled as they were in New York after Sept. 11, 2011. (That surveillance, contra Trump, may never have yielded any actionable leads.) The distinction, though, is between rooting out crime and shutting down mosques. It's hard to see how the latter would pass muster in the courts.
(2) Trump's famously antagonistic relationship with the media hit a new level last month when he proposed revisiting libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. The law already prohibits the media from publishing maliciously false information about celebrities (with the bar for non-celebrities being lower), but Trump clearly would like to shift that line to his advantage.
A decade ago, Trump sued a reporter who wrote a book suggesting that Trump was worth less money than he insisted. Trump lost the case but was pleased he forced the reporter to defend himself. "I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about," he said in an interview as reported by The Washington Post's Paul Farhi.
What Trump would like to do is prevent the media from holding him to account — to abridge the freedom of the press.
(3) In the wake of Trump's canceled Chicago rally Friday, he took a new tack.
During a rally in Kansas City, Mo., that protesters kept interrupting, Trump said, "I hope these guys get thrown into a jail. They'll never do it again. It'll destroy their record. They'll have to explain to Mom and Dad why they have a police record and why they can't get a job. And you know what? I'm going to start pressing charges against all of these people. And then we won't have a problem."
There's some truth to his point about having difficulty getting a job, as has been reported repeatedly. A criminal conviction could negatively affect protesters over the long term.
Protests are not themselves illegal. If you are protesting in a nonpublic area — like many of the rallies held for Donald Trump — you may protest, but if you are asked to leave and don't, you can be arrested for trespassing. If you get in a fight, you can be arrested. But you cannot be arrested simply for interrupting a speech. That's constitutionally protected. (You cannot do this, though.)
Under Trump, then, we'd keep the ban on official government religions, keep support for the general freedom of speech and keep the ability to petition the government. For now.
It begs the question: Why does Trump accept the 2nd Amendment without qualification (these days) but like to talk about limiting the 1st? The simple answer is that the 2nd Amendment is critical to a large percentage of the Republican voters to whom he hopes to appeal. Likewise with rhetoric opposing Muslims.
The more complicated answer is that the provisions of the 2nd Amendment pose no threat to him personally. He's fine with the right to bear arms because that's not personally annoying to him. The ability of the press to criticize him or of protesters to make their opinions heard or to try and hold him to account are things that he clearly wishes he could make go away.
Which is precisely why the Bill of Rights — aimed at keeping power in the hands of the people — was created.