Whatever Became of Trump’s Gun Safety Promise?
Two new mass shootings serve as a reminder that Trump promised to tackle gun violence but has yet to take action
It’s been 125 days since 31 people were killed in mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio. In the weeks that followed, elected officials from both sides of the aisle vowed to work together to tackle the epidemic of gun violence. President Donald Trump seized the moment, promising he would look into gun safety measures such as expanding background checks and so-called “red flag” laws, which allow for the temporary removal of firearms from people who are a danger to themselves or others. He won praise from pundits and analysts. Democrats who were trying to work with him on the issue expressed hope that they would come to an agreement.
And then, nothing happened. Instead of releasing the proposal he promised would come out “soon” in September, the White House went silent. No plan was ever released.
On Friday, three people were killed and several were injured when a gunman opened fire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola Florida. The shooting came just two days after a gunman killed two and injured a third person on Wednesday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. Incidents like these have become increasingly common: As of December 1, there had been more mass shootings than days in 2019, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), which tracks these incidents. The organization added that there had been 35,943 gun-related deaths — including homicides, suicides, and accidents — during the same time period.
Trump dropped the idea of pushing for gun control after his political advisers said it would be unpopular with his base and could harm him in the 2020 election, according to the Washington Post. GEN reached out to the White House to ask whether the president plans to move forward with any gun safety measures in the wake of the latest shootings, but did not receive a reply.
Advocates who work on the issue of gun violence have been frustrated by the Trump administration’s inaction. “Yet again, the president shows that he cares more about putting NRA money in his pockets and being re-elected than about the 100 people who are being killed every day [by guns],” Katherine Phillips, federal affairs manager at Giffords, an advocacy and research organization focused on gun violence prevention, told GEN.
Phillips pointed at several gun safety measures that have passed in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support: universal background checks; closing the “boyfriend loophole” which blocks gun sales for convicted abusers of current or former dating partners; and allocating $50 million for gun violence research. All of these measures have been languishing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Rep. Katherine Clark, vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, told GEN over the summer that gun safety measures were a priority for the party. “We had 53 Americans lose their lives in mass shootings over the recess, and hundreds of others were critically injured,” she said at the time. “We’re going to keep the pressure on Mitch McConnell to pass the bills that have been sitting at the Senate since February.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump has the power to push for these measures. “If the president is in favor of a number of things that he has discussed openly and publicly, and I know that if we pass it it’ll become law, I’ll put it on the floor,” McConnell said in September. But McConnell has been hesitant to bring legislation forward for a vote when there is any doubt as to whether the president will sign it.
There are Republican elected officials who are willing to work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions on gun violence, Phillips points out. However, she says she doubts Trump will take any action as long as he is “in the pocket” of the gun lobby. “Until we have a new president, I’m not hopeful that anything will happen,” she said.