After the tragedies this weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump on Monday delivered the rebuke to racism that he has often eschewed — conspicuously — in such cases.
In a brief speech from the White House, Trump said that “our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacism.” The more significant line legislatively-speaking, though, was this: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger — not the gun.”
Trump’s roughly 10-minute speech included no real call for gun restrictions or even background checks. He instead dwelt upon mental health issues and even violent video games.
That’s notable, given Trump had tweeted earlier Monday morning that “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks . . . .” Trump even suggested linking background checks to some kind of (similarly elusive) immigration legislation. The fact that he didn’t also propose such a thing with the country watching should indicate how much of a priority this is.
....this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
As should his carefully chosen phrasing. Trump could have blamed both lax gun laws and mental health; instead he chose to suggest it wasn’t guns that were the problem here. It was the kind of phrasing the National Rifle Association would love — and echoes a frequent talking point from gun-rights supporters that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The NRA’s recently installed president has also blamed violent video games.
And it’s merely the latest time Trump has inched toward some kind of gun legislation, only to pull back and take a more NRA-friendly tack. After the tragedy in Parkland, Fla., in early 2018, Trump called for gun restrictions that were “on the strong side.” He floated raising the age limit to buy rifles and even flirted with the idea of gun confiscation without due process. He said he could do it because he, unlike other Republicans, wasn’t in the NRA’s pocket. “They have great power over you people,” Trump said. “They have less power over me.”
Trump never proposed significant gun restrictions. And by May, he was speaking to an NRA convention and back in lockstep with the group.
Trump’s reactions to these kinds of tragedies are often all over the map, so these things are liable to change. The unifying theme, though, is that he’s more inclined to muse about doing something than to actually follow through. The president who talked a big game about standing up to the NRA has shown little real desire to follow through on that. And his choice of words Monday should pretty much erase any doubt about how bold he’s likely to get on guns.