Once a strict opponent of gun control, President Trump's views on the issue may be shifting. On Tuesday, he directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pursue regulations that would ban bump stocks, and since last week's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, he has also indicated a possible willingness to raise the minimum age for buying assault weapons and reform the background check system. All of that seems promising, but a fickle Republican record on this issue complicates the question of whether Trump will pass gun control for real.
Trump's biggest shift so far seems to be around bump stocks, which modify semi-automatic weapons (which only fire once for each pull of the trigger) so that they can fire like automatics. Automatics are sometimes called "machine guns" and are outlawed in the United States. The shooter who killed 58 people at a Las Vegas concert last October used a bump stock.
"Just a few moments ago I signed a memo directing the attorney general to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns," Trump said at a White House event on Tuesday. If that comes to pass, these regulations would change the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)'s classification of machine guns to include weapons that use bump stocks.
Some are skeptical that this would be enough to prevent the use of bump stocks, however. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said that this administrative solution wouldn't be as effective as a legislative ban. "If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold," she said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump is also reportedly considering raising the minimum age at which people can buy assault weapons. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that the measure is "certainly something that's on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks." On Wednesday, Axios reported that Trump has been expressing his support for the idea to his confidantes in private.
In line with his insistence that gun violence is a mental health problem more than a guns problem, Trump has also gotten behind the idea of reforming the federal background checks system. "Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!" he tweeted on Tuesday.
Debates on gun control never seem to get anywhere, maybe because guns are part of the cultural identity for certain segments of the U.S. population. Republicans' solution to mass shootings is more guns — the idea being that people who are armed can protect themselves. After every mass shooting in recent years, from Sandy Hook to Orlando to Las Vegas, people have wondered whether the latest atrocity would be "enough" to convince pro-gun politicians to rethink their stances on the issue, and it never has been.
But maybe this time really could be different. Parkland has incited even some far-right conservatives to shift their stances slightly. Some Republican lawmakers have also joined the calls that enough is enough.
"There are a lot of Republicans who are prepared to support reasonable, common-sense gun safety laws, new laws, stronger laws that protect rights for responsible citizens, people who are responsible gun owners, but will prevent those who want to do harm to innocent people from obtaining these weapons," said Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Sunday.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy insisted on Monday that "the politics of gun violence are shifting rapidly," pointing to Trump's support for fixing the faulty enforcement of our existing background check system
And CNN reports that Trump is "feeling the pressure" to act on gun control, having spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago watching critical press coverage that calls on him to act. He's been meeting with several GOP members about the issue and even spoke with Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News contributor, who argued in favor of raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons.
A group of student activists, many of whom survived the Parkland shooting, headed to Tallahassee on Wednesday to meet with the state legislature on the issue of gun control. Students are also planning a national school walkout on the one-month anniversary of the shooting, the "March For Our Lives" on March 24, and another school walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the infamous attack at Columbine High School.