President Trump’s budget deal with Democrats last month encouraged Americans looking for a sign that he can put aside personal political calculations for the good of his country. In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in this nation’s history, that same common sense is needed to help reduce the frequency and carnage of such tragedies.
This is a Nixon-in-China moment for Trump. Richard Nixon’s stature as an anticommunist Republican made it more palatable to conservatives when he traveled to Beijing in 1972 to meet with Mao Zedong, who seized power in 1949. Trump’s stature with the gun-rights activists who helped him win the presidency opens the door for him to argue for more gun control. But will he do it?
Trump’s first comment after at least 59 people were shot to death Sunday night while attending a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip came in the form of a rather benign tweet: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you.”
Later, reading from a teleprompter, the president called the attack an “act of pure evil.” He commiserated with families who lost loved ones in the massacre, saying: “We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss.” But he made no mention of the rapid-fire guns that made it possible for the shooter to claim so many victims. At least 500 were wounded or injured during the chaos.
How many more must die or be maimed before Congress grows a spine strong enough to resist the gun lobby, whose campaign donations apparently mean more than seeing two House members – Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise – wounded in mass shootings?
That Congress did nothing after Giffords and Scalise were shot shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, it did next to nothing in 2012 after 20 first-graders and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That sickening event led Trump to tweet his support for President Barack Obama’s call for more gun control, saying Obama “spoke for me and every American.”
Now it’s time for Trump to speak. The National Rifle Association endorsed his presidential campaign, but that doesn’t mean he must be the NRA’s tool. In fact, Trump’s 2000 book, The America We Deserve, called for a ban on assault weapons and a longer waiting period to buy a gun — positions he discarded on the campaign trail in 2016.
This president, who was born with all the accoutrements of wealth, prides himself on being able to connect with working-class, churchgoing Americans who also own guns. Many of them have bought the NRA’s position that any further restrictions would become a slippery slope toward banning gun ownership. Trump has the stature to argue otherwise.
To do that, he must find the same will he showed in avoiding a government shutdown by reaching a budget deal with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. His fellow Republicans didn’t like it, but it was the right thing to do. Just as it is the right thing to support measures backed by law enforcement that may not prevent mass murders, but make it harder to kill so many.