After President Trump appeared to dramatically walk back his support for the National Rifle Association's anti-gun control agenda on Wednesday, he faced immediate backlash from the right. Conservative commentators, politicians, and news outlets criticized the president's shifting stance, and hardline gun rights nonprofit Gun Owners of America gave Trump a nickname: "Gun-Grabber-in-Chief."
"We believe he's gone from, in his own words, the Second Amendment's best friend to the gun-grabber-in-chief," Michael Hammond, GOA's legislative counsel, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.
"As soon as he becomes president, he adopts Michael Bloomberg's agenda," Hammond continued. Bloomberg has long been a high-profile advocate of gun control. It's a bad parallel, though, and for more reasons than just the fact that Trump's fickleness could cause him to switch positions on this issue again.
Bloomberg's gun control ideas are much more liberal than Trump's apparent new agenda, and he's purposefully made himself an enemy of the NRA whereas Trump still supports the organization and has several times openly ingratiated himself to it, once telling an NRA gathering, "You have a true friend and champion in the White House."
Wednesday's meeting took place on live television and was a conversation between Trump and Republican and Democratic members of Congress. The president indicated his support for a wide range of gun control measures, including increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns and expanding background checks so that they apply to sales made at gun shows and online. He even said that he might consider an assault weapons ban.
When one Republican at the meeting challenged Trump's comments about raising the minimum age for rifle sales, the president attacked him sharply, suggesting that he was afraid of the NRA. The New York Times reports that Trump seems to want to avoid giving the impression that he's in the association's pocket. Again, if the president does act independently of the NRA from now on, it would be a deviation from his previous rhetoric and agenda.
In direct defiance of the NRA's main legislative goal, Trump indicated that he does not support a concealed-carry reciprocity measure that would allow people with a concealed carry license from one state to use it anywhere. Republicans have been trying to tie this measure to a bipartisan bill for improving the federal background check system. In the meeting's most controversial moment, Trump said that when trying to get guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, he'd be in favor of proactively taking weapons and asking questions later.
"I like taking the guns early," he said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second."
The NRA has denounced Trump's comments. "While today's meeting made for great TV, the gun control policies discussed would make bad policy that wouldn’t keep our children safer," a spokeswoman for the association said in a statement. "We are going to continue to work to pass policies that might actually prevent another horrific tragedy."
The NRA's criticism was mild compared to other backlash that came from the right. There was Michael Hammond's "gun-grabber-in-chief" comment, a Breitbart headline labeling Trump "The Gun Grabber," pundit Ben Shapiro accusing the president of "mouth-farting on national TV," and many other bitter condemnations.
Trump may have had these responses in mind when he seemed to try to reframe the meeting in a more moderate light in a Thursday morning tweet.
"Many ideas, some good [and] some not so good, emerged from our bipartisan meeting on school safety yesterday at the White House," he wrote. "Background Checks a big part of conversation. Gun free zones are proven targets of killers. After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!"
Trump has a history of rapidly changing his mind on policy matters. Neither Republicans nor Democrats should get too invested in the comments he made on Wednesday.