President Trump's position on gun control seems to be getting less clear, not more, as others who purport to speak for him send mixed signals, and the president declines to crystallize his views.
Trump left it to the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, to break the news of a Thursday-night meeting in the Oval Office. Cox reported that Trump and Vice President Pence “support strong due process and don't want gun control.”
Cox's summary of the president's stance seemed to contradict some of Trump's previous statements. During a bipartisan meeting at the White House on Wednesday, for example, Trump said that in some cases where police suspect a person could be dangerous, they should “take the guns first, go through due process second.” Trump's remark did not sound like support for “strong” due process — or due process at all, in fact.
And since last month's shooting at a Florida high school, Trump has proposed multiple gun-control measures, including a ban on bump stocks, which enable semiautomatic weapons to mimic the rapid fire of machine guns.
“We really do have to strengthen up — really strengthen up — background checks,” Trump said in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday.
The president also has said on multiple occasions that he would like to raise the minimum purchasing age for rifles to 21.
Cox indicated in his tweet that Trump had changed his mind. And Trump offered neither a confirmation nor a denial when he posted a tweet of his own about an hour later, saying only that he had a “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”
A brief question-and-answer session between journalists and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday morning did little to clear things up.
Sanders was vague about Trump's position on background checks, saying, “The background check system is something that he's still very much interested in improving. ... Not necessarily universal background checks but certainly improving the background check system. He wants to see what that legislation, the final piece of it, looks like. 'Universal' means something different to a lot of people. He certainly wants to focus and improve on the background check system.”
If lawmakers are looking for concrete guidance on what the president would be willing to sign, they won't find it here.
What about the age requirement?
“Conceptually, he still supports raising the age to 21,” Sanders said, repeating the same couched language she used earlier in the week. “But he also knows there's not a lot of broad support for that. But that's something he would support. ... I think he thinks it would probably have more potential in the states than it would at the federal level.”
Note that Sanders's final statement about state legislation is not a declaration of the president's position; it's just what she thinks he thinks.
Also on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement in which he claimed to know that Trump's “instincts” are to push for new gun laws.
“President Trump should go with his instincts, not the clarion and destructive call of the NRA,” Schumer said. “He knows instinctively that this is the right thing to do.”
Trump was up and tweeting early on Friday, posting a half-dozen messages before 9 a.m. But none related to guns.
The president is losing control of his own message. By not saying definitively where he stands on various proposals, he is allowing others to put words in his mouth.