It is unnervingly common: you pick up your phone, open your news app, and scroll through the stories. As usual, there is one bemoaning what (insert name of stupid politician here) has to say. There is one, invariably, discussing Bitcoin. And there is one reporting on a shooting in a US school or university. Whilst the statistics have been inflated by some, it doesn’t take much thought to appreciate that our American cousins have a serious problem with guns. The debate, like many in the modern Colosseum of social media, is heated, with vehement adherents to ideologies on both sides. Of course, this issue is hardly new, having plagued Presidents from Obama back to Reagan.
The prime difficulty in putting an end to these atrocities lies in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This declares, in defence of the individual against potential tyranny of the state, the right to keep and bear arms. Now, this doesn’t mean that the government cannot do anything about it: State and Federal authorities have the legal power to regulate the possession and use of firearms, within certain bounds. However, politicians and Americans have simply refused to compromise on the issue. Unlike other contentious political debates, the charged and highly partisan political environment in the US has decided that, for legislation concerning guns, there is no compromise to be had. The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which boasts over five million members and control of basically the entire Republican party, has repeatedly and vocally lobbied against gun control in any measure that has so far been proposed. And that is why President Trump is a beacon of hope. I really never thought I would be saying that; let me explain.
Don’t get me wrong; Trump is not my idea of a model of human behaviour, and I certainly don’t endorse a good number of his statements and policies. However, although his erratic statements, off-script speeches and late night tweeting are certainly highly politically unconventional, and arguably un-Presidential, it is this quality – of a lack of any desire to be liked or respected on Capitol Hill – that provides a potential avenue of progress for gun control in America. The simple fact is that, whilst Democrats hate Trump, so do Republicans. They made every effort to get rid of him as their candidate, and many Republican lawmakers still hold him in contempt. But he doesn’t care. He has only ever cared about one thing: Donald Trump. Now, that’s hardly an admirable characteristic, but what it does mean is that he pretty much only does what he thinks he should do, and not what people tell him he should do. So, when he encounters problems, he is perfectly happy to change his mind. He has absolutely no concerns about his political status, because he doesn’t do conventional politics. He speaks to his supporters directly, and engages with whomever he needs to in order to get what he wants to get done, done. He worked with Democrats on a Spending Bill, and has been negotiating with them, much more closely than some Republicans would like, to make political concessions in return for increased border security measures. In short – Trump does what he wants, not what he thinks will poll well, or what his party, or their lobbyists, want him to.
And in this, he offers an opportunity for real change. The NRA has pushed all the Republican Senators and Congressman that it financially supports – a large number – to give no quarter on gun control legislation. But, for all the ears the NRA has in Washington, it now lacks that of a key official: the President. In a video recording of part of a bi-partisan meeting held by Trump to discuss gun control, which the Guardian recently published online (I would encourage you to watch it), the President very openly called out Lawmakers for being “afraid of the NRA”, before proclaiming “they have less power over me…. What do I need?”. Now, don’t think that he isn’t also in bed with the NRA: they donated $30 million to his Presidential campaign, and he has proclaimed himself their friend repeatedly. But. Whilst he may support their broad aims in supporting the Second Amendment, he does not rely on their support in the same way that prior Presidents have done, and that current Republican officials do. He likes them, but he doesn’t need them. Trump has a tendency of being very happy to compromise on what hard-line Republicans view as politically sacrosanct, in order to get done whatever he happens to want at the time. Gun control is the ultimate Republican red line, but President Trump doesn’t care. As a result, there are two clear paths to the possibility that Trump may finally secure gun control in America.
For the first part, gun control offers him probably the largest bartering chip for Democratic support that he could ask for; the possibility that he could get Democratic support to build his wall, in return for lasting and effective gun control, is very real. Secondly, Trump is sympathetic to gun control, and, as pointed out, he pretty much does what he likes, and leaves party lines to be blurred by his words and actions. Therefore, even without an exchange with the Democrats, gun control under Trump could well happen, if he is convicted enough in his belief that it should be legislated. In the aforementioned meeting, he supported the re-introduction of a bill to the Senate that imposes “universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet”. He argued strongly against a Republican, saying that, where there is concern over the mental health of an individual who possesses guns, the guns should be confiscated immediately, and due process – i.e. adjudication in courts – could happen later. His approach is by no means liberal, but it is, if nothing else, pragmatic. He supports banning assault weapons, raising the minimum purchase age, and enforcing stricter mental health screening, all sensible approaches, and all vast steps forward in the immovable tussle of American politics.
For all that his confused tweeting and conflicting statements give off an air of incompetence, and disorganisation, they fundamentally betray a glaring self-interest. Trump wants to do what he said he would get done, and anything that pops up along the way that he fancies. He is not a committed ideologue, nor does he care for the support of those who are. Whilst this may, for the most part, be to his detriment, he might just end up wielding this tendency to the benefit of the people of America. Here’s hoping that gun control is his legacy.