Since January of 2014, 438 people have been shot in a school shooting. 138 of those people died. That number does not even include the 20 first graders and six adults that were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. These deaths and injuries have come from 239 individual school shootings. (A school shooting, defined by the Gun Violence Archive, is when a gun discharges on school property during school hours or school activities and at least one individual is injured or killed by gunfire.)
On February 14th, 31 students and teachers were shot during a shooting in Parkland, FL. 17 of those people died.
The amount of bills that have been passed in the House and the Senate since 2012 relating to gun control.
Today is March 2nd, two weeks from the tragic shooting in Parkland, FL— and the American people have no idea what the President’s opinions on gun control actually are. That’s a problem.
A democracy is a system of government in which individuals have the right to express their opinions, support certain leaders and fight against others. If the leader, however, expresses numerous, conflicting views how are the people supposed to decide if they should stand with him or should take a stand in opposition? While individuals still possess the right to stand up for what they believe, regardless of the stance of the leader, the ambiguity injects confusion into an already tenuous situation.
On March 1st, President Trump held a bipartisan meeting to discuss gun legislation. In a shocking move Trump took a surprisingly progressive stance, however, less than 24 hours later, Trump met with the top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and it seems as if Trump has backtracked on many of the gun control measures he discussed just the day before. In the meeting on March 1st, Trump first berated Republican senators of being “afraid of the NRA” and stated that the NRA had much less control over him. Yet the following evening Trump seemed to be quite chummy with the NRA as he tweeted, “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!.” The National Rifle Association is a very conservative organization— while the world is not black and white it’s pretty clear where the NRA stands on gun control legislation. If the President was just pushing for more radical gun control measures that the NRA does not believe in then how exactly was the meeting so “great?”
In the meeting on March 1st Trump stated, ““I’m a big fan of the NRA … but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun but I can get [an assault rifle] at 18.” Trump strongly suggested that the Congress should take steps to raise the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle to 21. After his meeting with the NRA, however, ABC News reported that “White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president continues to ‘conceptually’ support the idea of raising the minimum age of purchase on assault rifles, but suggested that the president was in favor of leaving the matter up to the states.” So does the President support raising the minimum age? Or was that a false claim and now he is deferring that decision to the states in order to escape pressure? This leaves many individuals in America, conservatives and liberals alike, wondering where the President stands. No one knows what stance he will take the next time he addresses the issue— and that’s unsettling.
In another position switch during the bipartisan meeting Trump suggested that he was in favor of widely expanding universal background checks. After his meeting with the NRA, ABC News also reported that Press Secretary Sanders refuted this idea. She said, “Not necessarily universal background checks but certainly improving the background check system… Universal means something different to a lot of people. He certainly wants to focus and improve on the background check system.” Is President Trump for universal background checks or not? The American people have the right to know.
A day after liberal media platforms and late night hosts were praising the President’s stance on gun control, Chris Cox, the NRA’s top lobbyist, said in a tweeted, “POTUS &VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and do not want gun control.” What are the American people supposed to believe?
Something needs to change. Before Americans lose their faith in the words of the President.
* Photo take by Gage Skidmore, “Donald Trump” (Flickr), Creative Commons Zero license
Though President Trump’s seemingly baseless flip-flopping on this issue is far from ideal, Trump’s position-taking on gun control is not necessarily a sign of democratic erosion. Gun control advocates are understandably and perhaps naturally skeptical of Trump suggesting that he is in favor of gun control. However, the mere fact that the president appeared to be open to persuasion is actually an indicator of a healthy democracy.
A healthy democracy does not require that a political candidate perfectly adheres to the positions that they espouse during the campaign. As a representative democracy, voters select a representative to be the best person making decisions, not a policy platform. The Parkland school shooting has rattled the national consciousness on gun control and spurred many to action, as the March for Our Lives has demonstrated. If one believes that Trump made pro-gun control statements in response to a change in public opinion on gun control and the urgency of gun control, then this would be a signal of a vibrant democracy.
A consolidated democracy requires that government officials see opposition to their policy stances as valid political discourse and not as an attack on democracy. On many other issues (and at other times on this issue), Trump has attacked opponents as unpatriotic and therefore holding illegitimate policy positions. However, by framing his pro-gun control statements around what does and does not make sense, Trump is implicitly acknowledging the legitimacy of the other side’s position.
Additionally, as Trump possibly evolves his policy position based on learning facts about gun control, it is understandable that all of the details are not completely worked out. Though past administrations have had a more professional means of dealing with policy formulation, in some ways, by publicly discussing the details, Trump may be inadvertently allowing for greater public input on policy formulation.
Finally, though Trump has not truly stood up to the NRA, he has taken an important step by stating that they don’t “have to agree on everything.” In a well-functioning democracy, a president should not feel completely beholden to interest groups and need not be in lockstep with the interests that elect him.