The Donald Trump 2016 Fever Dream White House Campaign Experience is a bizarre experiment in hybrid politicking. His approach to tackling policy issues is to either directly challenge core Republican and conservative beliefs, or indulge and pander to the ugliest desires of the party’s base. On the one hand, he’ll buck GOP orthodoxy and call for an increasingly progressive tax system that prioritizes fairness. On the other, he’ll promise to evict every undocumented immigrant from the country and tell a bigoted supporter that, as president, he’ll investigate the problems caused by Muslims living in America.
Trump’s no dope. He knows which issues will generate the most heat and cause the most controversy, and those are the issues he’ll pander to the hardest. So it makes sense that the “policy paper” he just released on guns embraces some of the worst, most extreme fantasies of the crazy pro-gun right.
The animating principle behind Trump’s gun proposal is that the more guns you have out there, the safer everyone will be. He opposes the expansion of background checks for purchasing firearms, he wants to get rid of bans on certain types of weapons and magazines, and he wants state-issued concealed carry permits to be valid nationwide. “The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own,” the paper declares.
The goal of making more and higher-powered weapons available to more people, according to Trump’s plan, is to enable ordinary citizens to “fight crime” using deadly force:
Here’s another important way to fight crime – empower law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves. Law enforcement is great, they do a tremendous job, but they can’t be everywhere all of the time. Our personal protection is ultimately up to us. That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit, and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well. It’s just common sense. To make America great again, we’re going to go after criminals and put the law back on the side of the law-abiding.
He’s taking two very different concepts – personal self-defense and law enforcement – and just mashing them together into a policy that flirts with vigilantism. The Trump gun policy vision caters to the George Zimmerman types who deputize themselves as stewards of public safety, and it would give them access to more powerful guns with higher-capacity magazines so they can help the cops “go after criminals.” What could possibly go wrong?
All of this is rooted in the “More Guns, Less Crime” thesis articulated nearly two decades ago by gun-crazy Internet sockpuppeteer John Lott, who argued that crime goes down when more people are carrying concealed weapons in public. In the years since he made that argument, there’s been a steady stream of research indicating not only that his conclusions are totally unsupported, but that the precise opposite is likely true: More concealed weapons means more aggravated assault. That has huge implications when you’re talking about making concealed-carry permits valid nationwide.
Trump’s policy paper also embodies the radical notion that the only way to be truly “free” is to carry a loaded firearm at all times:
It’s been said that the Second Amendment is America’s first freedom. That’s because the Right to Keep and Bear Arms protects all our other rights. We are the only country in the world that has a Second Amendment. Protecting that freedom is imperative.
This is an unsubtle nod to the idea that guns are necessary to prevent the government from taking away your rights – an idea that has migrated from militia movements and right-wing fringe groups to mainstream conservative and Republican politics. It’s a pernicious fiction that casts gun ownership as the true test of American character.
The Trump solution to gun violence is to make more powerful guns available, make them easier to obtain, make them easier to conceal, and encourage their use as an instrument of freelance crime-fighting. It’s difficult to see how that will end well, but it’s a policy proposition that the most conservative elements of the Republican base are sure to love.