Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review provides us with an interesting exercise in logic. He notes in somewhat of a relieved tone that the suspect in the Las Vegas shooting “wasn’t a felon—or, at least, that there was nothing in the federal database that would have prevented him from buying weapons.” This is apparently good news because it means that “universal background checks” would not have prevented him from carrying out the massacre. And if more expanded background checks would not have saved any lives in Las Vegas, then there shouldn’t be any compelling reason to implement them in response.
Does that seem like an airtight argument to you? We shouldn’t have a system that prevents felons from purchasing guns because non-felons will still be able to purchase guns? Maybe we shouldn’t put convicted murderers in prison because some people who haven’t yet been convicted of murder may become murderers in the future?
Cooke isn’t making a logical argument at all. He’s making a political appraisal. And he’s making the same mistake that liberals too often make: thinking that facts trump emotion. Just because a political response to the massacre might include measures that wouldn’t have prevented that specific tragedy doesn’t mean that there won’t be massive sentiment in favor of them. And if the sole reed you’re clinging to is that only felons would be negatively impacted, that’s not much of an argument from either a substantive or an emotional point of view.
A better political appraisal is attempted by Jonathan Swan who contacted more than twenty people close to Donald Trump to try to get an assessment of whether he’d be open to some gun control measures. Steve Bannon was an emphatic ‘no.’
I asked Steve Bannon whether he could imagine Trump pivoting to the left on guns after the Las Vegas massacre. “Impossible: will be the end of everything,” Bannon texted. When asked whether Trump’s base would react worse to this than they would if he supported an immigration amnesty bill, Bannon replied: “as hard as it is to believe actually worse.”
Roger Stone agreed, saying, “Base would go insane and [Trump] knows it.”
While some noted that Trump used to show concern about semiautomatic weapons in his previous life, the dominant sentiment was that Trump is now a fully owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association.
“POTUS (correctly) believes he doesn’t owe anything to most traditional Republican outside groups, because they didn’t lift a finger to help him in the election,” said a Trump administration source. “NRA is very much the exception. They stayed loyal through it all and kept spending.” We’re told Trump feels a personal connection to the NRA and is close to the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox.
Now, some of these folks think that they’ve come up with a way for Trump to do something without really doing anything. The NRA has been pushing a law that would make it easier to buy silencers. This is supposedly to help gun enthusiasts protect their hearing. The bill had some momentum prior to the Las Vegas massacre, but now no one thinks it will reach the floor in Congress anytime soon. Trump could come out against this bill and get credit for taking on the NRA.
Trump could make a modest concession to gun control advocates by opposing a controversial bill, backed by the NRA, to relax restrictions on the purchasing of gun silencers…
…Trump could get out in front of it, get a slap from the NRA on an issue that’s not nearly so radioactive as gun ownership, and move on without considering more substantial gun control actions.
You don’t need to be attending the funeral of a loved one this week to find this kind of political calculation repulsive.
One source who talked to Swan considered it possible that Trump would go further because he might be genuinely affected by the video footage of the massacre.
“The rational route to take would be to let the investigation play out to see if any new laws could’ve prevented this. I’m 100 percent Second Amendment but … people who had their brains blown out is enough to make anyone with a heart consider anything to prevent this.”
I’d add to this that if Trump travels to Las Vegas and talks to the families of the victims, he could—at least conceivably—be motivated to doing something more than oppose a bill that’s currently dead in the water. He is known, after all, for wanting to pander to whatever crowd he’s in.
At least in theory, he’d have a better chance of getting some gun violence legislation passed than Obama ever had, if only because he could provide some cover for a few Republicans to cross the aisle. The people who know him best doubt that he’ll go that route, however, and I see no reason to think that they’re wrong.
Many people have argued that if two classrooms full of butchered first-graders couldn’t convince Republicans to buck the NRA, it’s hard to conceive of anything that would. I’d add to this that the GOP paid no price and were arguably rewarded politically for their decision to ignore the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and stick with the NRA. And this was despite polling in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre that showed overwhelming support for stronger gun restrictions. This is more due to the shape of the electorate than to the raw vote. Trump won despite losing the popular vote by millions because he stomped Clinton in the gun-toting areas of states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Trump and the Republicans obviously need to be concerned about their growing weakness in the suburbs. But they won that trade in the last election, and it’s hard to argue that Trump can rely on doing better in the suburbs next time regardless of what he does on guns. Their political calculation is most likely going to be the same as Bannon’s and Stone’s. Trump can’t afford to disappoint his hardline supporters with any gun violence legislation.
For all the people out there wondering why the government will not do anything to attempt to put an end to these mass shootings, I’ve just provided you with the reasons. If people want something done, they’re going to have to defeat not just a few Republicans, but hordes of them. In fact, sadly, it would probably be easier to convince Trump to do something than to get Democratic majorities big enough to overcome Republican obstruction.
The situation is so hopeless that our political leadership should begin considering what happens when people feel that the political process is a dead end. They become radicalized and stop respecting the law. That’s where we’re headed on gun violence. That’s where we’re headed on a whole lot of things.