President Donald Trump addressed the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum in Atlanta this past weekend. He is the first president to address an NRA event since Ronald Reagan did so in 1983. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to protect Second Amendment rights and picked up the NRA’s endorsement early. There are two basic things the law-abiding gun owner needs to know about the federal government’s firearms policy; will federal agencies deal with them fairly and always operate on the principle that gun ownership is a constitutional right and will the feds step in, when necessary, to protect gun owners from anti-gun bias at the state and local level?
As with many policy areas, Trump appears to lack an ideological position on the Second Amendment. Despite his strong expressions of support for gun-rights, he doesn’t seem to be an enthusiastic gun-rights advocate. More importantly, however, he does not have an anti-gun agenda.
Trump got one of his biggest cheers of the speech when he announced, “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.” He went on to say, “No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners.”
The larger portion of the president’s speech was unrelated to the Second Amendment; he covered several issues in what seemed more like a campaign speech or, perhaps, a defense of his first 100 days.
It is tempting to think that, for the past eight years, America’s gun-owners have felt as though they were under siege. There were a lot of Democrat-voting gun owners who never believed that President Obama was a threat to their gun rights. Whether that was pure denial or not, the federal government itself seemed to move towards a more hostile view of Second Amendment rights. However, it was more an assault by regulation than by legislation. The ban on hunting with lead bullets on federal land is one regulation that has been rolled back by the Trump administration. Another, as reported by CNN, was the requirement that the Social Security Administration disclose information about “those who are considered incapable of managing their own disability benefits due to mental illness.” Like the lead ban, this was a regulation enacted toward the end of Obama’s second term.
The real fight for Second Amendment rights often takes place at the state, county or city level. Will the federal government – with a Trump administration – attempt to exert pressure on states where gun rights are restricted? The President told the NRA “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.” This administration has yet to face a high-profile challenge to gun-rights, so it remains to be seen what the President’s NRA endorsement was worth. At 100 days, he surely merits at least a ‘B’ on gun-rights. What the grade will be after 300 or 600 more days, we can only wait and see.
FBI data shows an overall decline in violent crime over the past 20 years. Specifically, a decline in gun-related homicides. The anti-gun movement has little in the way of objective statistical evidence to support any link between legal gun ownership and violent crime, so the next mass shooting is awaited, to reignite the debate.
NRA ad campaigns are now visible on cable television. Feeling that the president has its back, will the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobby push back harder at specific states and local jurisdictions? Trump has vowed not to infringe upon Second Amendment rights, but will he also throw the power of his office behind attempts to roll back local gun restrictions? The debate becomes one of states’ rights. Unlike the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which anti-gun leftists apply to every state and local jurisdiction in their battle to enforce secularism, the Second Amendment appears not to apply locally.
For Second Amendment advocates, the next four years could present a window of opportunity to put the president’s words to the test. He will still need to have strong NRA backing, going into his re-election campaign. That would be something worth taking advantage.