Trump is using guns to send his campaign message

He paid visit to the firearm shop that sold a rifle to the Jacksonville shooter and claimed to have made a purchase

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published September 29, 2023 2:08PM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention Leadership Forum at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday, April 14, 2023. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention Leadership Forum at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday, April 14, 2023. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ahead of a Monday campaign rally in Summerville, South Carolina, former president Donald Trump stopped to visit Palmetto State Armory, the firearm store that supplied the AR-15 style rifle a racist gunman used to fatally shoot three Black people in Florida late last month.

As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch noted, though it was falsely reported that the former president purchased a firearm during his visit, the armory did sell the weapon to the Jacksonville shooter, whose previous hold in state custody for mental health issues should have disqualified him from being able to purchase a firearm under Florida's Baker Act

The 21-year-old white assailant carried out the fatal, racially motivated attack at a Jacksonville Dollar General store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in August after being denied entry to a nearby historically Black college. Authorities said that he had left behind evidence that he "hated Black people" and that his AR-15 style rifle had a swastika painted on it.

Palmetto State Armory described the model used in the attack — the PA-15 — as "our interpretation of the legendary AR-15 rifle that you have grown to love," according to The Independent. The firearm store has also embraced fringe rhetoric, selling products embellished with imagery associated with the boogaloo movement, which grew from the slang term "boogaloo," meaning a war to topple the federal government, The Trace reported in 2021. The term, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has been used and promoted by white supremacists to allude to a future race war but those extremists largely did not join the movement.

The store was criticized in 2011 "for selling a limited run of AR-15 lower receivers — the crucial part of a gun that is considered a firearm under federal law — inscribed with 'You Lie,' the words shouted by U.S. Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina at President Barack Obama during a 2009 congressional address," The Trace wrote, noting that the company ceased the sale of that part shortly after the shooting of then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and 18 others at a constituent meeting.

During his visit Monday, Trump admired and posed for a photo with a decorated Glock on sale at Palmetto State Armory that's grip was engraved with his image, telling his entourage and others present during the trip that he wanted to buy the handgun in a now-deleted video of the encounter posted by his campaign. The video had garnered much attention as conflicting claims over whether the former president had purchased the firearm generated widespread confusion. 

Though his campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told CNN that he had not purchased the firearm from the company, Trump reposted a similar — if not the same — clip of him saying he wanted to buy the gun on his Truth Social account, which claimed that he had just bought the "Golden Glock," Meidas Touch reports.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her right-wing partner, Rightside Broadcasting Network producer Brian Glenn, had also appeared to confirm that Trump hard purchased the firearm during a Monday broadcast. But Glenn later refuted their confirmation later that day, saying that Trump did not buy the Glock and calling out the "fake press" asserting that he had,

Despite the back-and-forth over whether he bought the gun, Trump would not have legally been able to make the purchase as Bunch and CNN contributor Stephen Gutowski, a firearms reporter, pointed out on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Because the former president is facing two federal felony indictments, he can not acquire new guns under Title 18, U.S. Code section 922 (n), which makes it a crime for a person under indictment to receive any firearm that has been shipped in interstate or international commerce. Section 922 (d)(1) also makes it illegal for anyone to sell a firearm to a person who "is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year."

Though a federal judge struck down that prohibition as applied to a Texas man last year in an appealed case awaiting a ruling from a Fifth Circuit panel, there are several other rulings from after the Supreme Court's Bruen decision — which deemed discretionary gun restrictions unconstitutional but allowed for objective regulations like background checks — that uphold the restriction as constitutional. 

"So, as with a number of federal gun laws post-Bruen, different district judges have come down on different sides of this question. The Fifth Circuit seems likely to be the first appeals court to weigh in, but we're still waiting on their decision," Gutowski tweeted.

"Facing multiple felony charges, the ex-president would not have passed a background check," Bunch wrote on X. "But [Palmetto State Armory] could sell an AR-15 to a young, mentally troubled white supremacist."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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