America’s governing party has launched its usual stall on guns. At a brief press event on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team criticized law enforcement for dropping the ball on multiple tips about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, lamented the state of US culture, and spoke about mental-health reform and adding more records to the background check system.
They avoided any meaningful discussion of tougher gun laws.
Now to Donald Trump. What would we think if the president of the United States informed us that he had chatted monetary policy with Glenn Beck, who among his various paranoid notions, has warned that the government is going to issue a new currency backed by land — and that to obtain that land, will have Freddie and Fannie seize it from everyday citizens? Or that he’d sat down with Alex Jones, who thinks the global elites are intent on exterminating much of the world’s population, for some advice on foreign policy issues?
Well, over the weekend, as he mulled gun policy, Trump broke bread with another wild-eyed conspiracy theorist: Wayne LaPierre, chief of the heavily gun-industry-funded NRA. Witness the speech LaPierre gave last week to the Conservative Political Action Conference. LaPierre wasn’t just a bit off his beam; he was bats-in-the-belfry bonkers.
LaPierre believes, or purports to believe, that “a tidal wave” of “European-style socialists” has washed over the Democratic Party, filling it with “saboteurs” who are intent on obliterating the Second Amendment as the first step in a broader scheme.
“It’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue,” LaPierre contended. “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.”
To that end, these socialist saboteurs hope to manipulate America’s children to provide information about their parents — what TV shows they watch, what magazines they read, whether they spank their kids, whether they own guns — that will then be entered into an “ultimate list . . . that cloud of data storage.”
From there, the NRA’s top gun warned, “it’s just a short hop to the systematic destruction of our most basic freedoms in this country.”
This is the kind of demented discourse you’d expect from a ranter in the park who thinks he was Napoleon in a past life, not the leader of a major GOP constituency group. And yet Trump is meeting with LaPierre (and NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox) as he tries to formulate policy in the aftermath of Parkland.
It’s probably no surprise that Trump’s arm-the-teachers idea is basically drawn from the NRA playbook. Or that he has no interest in an assault weapons ban and may even be retreating from his previous support for raising the age for buying such a weapon.
Or that he’s acting as if increasing the records included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is a solution. Yes, we should improve the background check system. More complete records could have prevented gun purchases by Texas church shooter Devin Kelley.
But that wouldn’t have kept Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock from obtaining his weapons (though a bump-stock ban might have reduced the lethality of that attack). Nor, absent a relevant conviction, indictment, confinement, or adjudication, would it have kept Cruz from buying his assault-style rifle.
“Far more often than not, high-profile shooters in mass shootings have passed background checks,” says Avery Gardiner, copresident of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. “And even if they hadn’t, they could still easily get an assault weapon from a private seller who doesn’t do background checks.”
So here’s the key question to keep in mind as this debate goes forward: Would any of the things the GOP is proposing have prevented Cruz or Paddock from buying their weapons? Unless the answer is yes, don’t be fooled: Nothing significant is being done.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.