Trump’s Speeches To The NRA Promised He’d Never Let Gun Owners Down
President Trump gave a speech on Thursday that responded to the previous day's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but didn't address gun control. There's a likely reason: As far back as the 2016 election campaign, he's marketed himself as a pro-gun leader and a friend to the National Rifle Association. Trump has made speeches to the NRA to fight gun control measures like the ones for which many people are advocating in the wake of the Parkland shooting. He doesn't want to erode the association's support.
Trump's views on gun control actually used to be more liberal. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, he said that he supports "limited restrictions" on gun ownership, extended waiting periods for purchasing guns, and an assault weapons ban.
But once he decided to run for president, Trump took a more traditional Republican stance on the issue in an attempt to win over the NRA's support. The association is a major lobbying force (it ended up giving Trump over $21 million during the 2016 election), isn't afraid to run brutal ads against its opponents, and has great power to mobilize constituents during campaigns.
"The way you rise up in Republican politics is by supporting gun rights issues, and you do that because there a lot of Republican voters in the coalition who care very deeply about gun rights," Lee Drutman of the think tank New America has told Vox.
So Trump refashioned himself into a gun advocate. The transformation was complete when he took the stage to thank the NRA for its endorsement on May 20, 2016. "I will not let you down," he told the crowd, and made promises such as: "We're getting rid of gun-free zones, I can tell you."
During the speech, Trump discussed at length the 2015 Paris massacre in which gunmen killed 130 people, most of whom were at an Eagles of Death Metal concert. He suggested that the casualties would not have been as great if victims had been equipped with guns to defend themselves. He even argued that the murderers might have been deterred from hurting anybody if they had known that there were guns in the audience.
In reference to gun control advocates who "keep chipping away" at gun rights, Trump told the crowd, "We're going to take care of it."
His language was even stronger during his next major speech to the association, which he gave on April 28, 2017 at their leadership forum. The event made Trump the first sitting president to address the NRA since Ronald Reagan.
"The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end," he said then, referring to President Obama's record on guns (which wasn't very aggressive). "You have a true friend and champion in the White House. ... You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you."
He made a major "promise" to the NRA that day, though it was a fairly vague one. "Let me make a simple promise to every one of the freedom-loving Americans in the audience today: As your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms," he said. "Never ever."
Trump used additional abstract and pro-gun language in that speech, saying that he wanted to "protect our wonderful hunters" and "ensure you of the sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens."
During his speech this Thursday about the Parkland shooting, Trump claimed that the federal government is committed "to assist in any way that we can." Addressing the United States' youth, Trump said, "We are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain."
Placing stricter controls on assault weapons could be a great start toward giving American kids "whatever" they need to be safe in school. The Parkland gunman used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a weapon that has been used in many U.S. mass shootings, isn't best used for the more innocuous purposes of hunting and home defense, and yet remains legal.