And the war raged on. Two weeks later, America still has a single topic on her mind: guns. We’ve seen everyone argue until they’re blue in the face, so we’re going to take a step back for a moment. Instead of quoting statistics and pushing agendas, we’re going to compare history and use it to speculate.
How do Obama and Trump stack up against each other on gun control? What does that mean for the future of this debate?
Obama made many speeches condemning gun ownership and calling for stronger regulation of firearms. It wasn’t dissimilar from his stance on economics and foreign policy. Through his eight years in office, he pushed for a number of specific changes. Most of them died in Congress.
Among his failed proposals were an expansion of background checks (the long-lived favorite among liberals), the ban of suppressors, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a fully-drafted attempt to outlaw a new class of assault weapons. Unlike modern proposals, his had, at the time, an actual definition for the term.
While those efforts failed, Obama did see some things through. Most famously, he enacted his 23 presidential actions. They were aimed at gun control, but none of them actually impacted ownership, purchasing or acting with firearms. Instead, they charged the CDC and other research groups with investigating gun crime. This isn’t widely known because mainstream media didn’t like the results. The CDC found that guns stop 5 to 15 times more crime than they perpetuate.
Capping Obama’s gun legacy are the two pieces of legislature that he actually signed. The first allowed guns to be carried inside national parks. The second made it legal for guns to be among checked baggage on passenger trains. You might notice that both of these laws actually expanded gun rights. Overall, Obama’s actions and successes were a far cry from what he said in speeches.
Let’s start our review of Trump with what he did in the first year. He rescinded a presidential order that linked social security mental health records to FBI background checks. It was deemed a violation of privacy. Everything else has just been talk.
Before the recent school shooting in Florida, Trump helped the GOP push an agenda to make concealed carry licenses reciprocal across all states. That is still being discussed. Since the shooting, Trump has made public statements in favor of restricting access to guns and reforming gun control in general. His two primary proposals have been to raise the minimum age of purchase to 21 and expand federal background checks.
Simultaneously, Trump has called for more guns to improve security. He has already helped form the backbone of the Florida bill that now pays teachers to receive training and carry concealed weapons at school. He has also called for the complete elimination of gun-free zones. Altogether, he’s providing a mixed bag, and it’s right in line with the negotiation tactics that helped him achieve such a momentous first year.
Can it Pass?
The real question is if Trump will oversee more real change than Obama did. Time will be the judge, but in the moment, the answer is likely yes. Pushing the age limit to purchase firearms is unlikely to get through a Republican House. If you can die for your country at 18, then you can buy a gun. That’s a pretty entrenched rhetoric.
On the other hand, expanding background checks is gaining bipartisan support. A number of prominent Republican representatives are ready to offer that as a bargaining chip. They may trade concealed carry reform for expanded background checks. If so, that would make Trump more successful than any liberal president in gun reform in modern history.
The Difference in Success
At a glance, it’s easy to assume that Trump would have better luck with gun reform. If he can rally the dissenting Republican majority, it should be a walk in the park. But, Obama had a supermajority in both the House and Senate, but he couldn’t get any gun reform through. There are two factors that really separate the presidents. First, Trump has proven an apt negotiator. He keeps everyone guessing, and that prevents either party from mounting a good offense against him. It has helped with immigration reform and the tax bill, and it can keep working.
The bigger issue stems from the primary differences between the party platforms. Democrats have been vociferously anti-gun for decades. What they haven’t been is pro any specific gun reform. Even their definition of “assault” weapons varies wildly depending on who is asked. This fragmentation has kept any passable changes from ever building momentum. It’s so extreme that they regularly attack each other over proposals for being too soft or lacking empathy.
Here’s the real litmus test. Watch what gun reforms are actually put forward by the GOP, and see how many Democrats rail against it. Mainstream media and the bulk of the Democratic Senate will condemn the proposal whether it passes or not. That is the moment that will prove the ultimate nature of the left. They don’t want to build anything, and their partisanship will drive them to attack new gun control laws.
Conversely, the current Republican platform is well defined, and the GOP will use small gun control measures to barter for things they really want. Most likely, it will boil down to funding projects like Trump’s wall, better border security or something similar. Regardless, if we don’t see expanded background checks by the end of the year, it will be primarily from liberal objections.
All of this is enough to make your head spin. It feels like bizarro America where Trump and the GOP are offering gun restrictions and the left is primed to stop it. The important thing is to remember perspective. Gun control in the U.S. is already far more substantial than most liberals understand. There is already a large variety of weaponry that is out of reach. There are tons of restrictions on where we can carry, and resellers are watched like hawks.
If we already have to submit to a background check, is it worth redefining the scope of those checks to push the Democrats into a final checkmate?