After a campaign appearance with cops in New Hampshire, the presidential candidate once known as himself boarded his private plane for home.
Donald Trump happened to arrive in New York shortly after two NYPD officers were shot, one in the face, the other in her abdomen.
The Trump of another time had told a TV interviewer, “I hate even the concept of guns.” The Trump of present times had become a champion of gun rights on the way to becoming the Republican frontrunner.
“Politicians are trying to chip away at the 2nd Amendment. I won’t let them take away our guns!” he tweeted earlier that day.
The tweet remained up as Twitter carried the news that New York cops had once again fallen victim to an illegal handgun in their unending effort to keep Trump’s home city the safest big city in America. More than 90 percent of guns recovered in crimes in New York originate elsewhere, most of them from Southern states where gun laws are lax.
Just over a year ago, a Taurus 9-mm semi-automatic pistol purchased in an Atlanta, Georgia, pawn shop in 1998 was used to shoot two other NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Both died.
On Thursday night, a .32 caliber Beretta semi-automatic pistol purchased along with four other handguns at a Nashville, Tennessee, gun shop in 2010 was used to shoot NYPD officers Diara Cruz and Patrick Espeut in the hallway of a Bronx housing proejct. The gunman then took his own life, believing he had killed the cops, but both survived.
As it happens, the 53-year-old owner of the Nashville gun shop hails from New York and knows from direct experience that Trump is willing to say just about anything when it suits him.
Decades before he went into the gun business, Bill Bernstein served as a volunteer in the community office of New York State Assemblyman Pete Grannis of Manhattan. Grannis paid particular attention to real estate development and tax abatements. Trump was then on his way to becoming The Donald by acquiring the former site of the Bonwitt Teller & Co. department store on Fifth Avenue and preparing to erect Trump Tower in its place.
As Bernstein remembers it, and as history confirms, the entrance to the Bonwitt Teller building featured a famous limestone bas-relief that Trump pledged to preserve and donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A meeting regarding the preservation of the artwork was set for 10 o’clock on a particular Monday.
“Six o’clock Monday morning he sent in the wrecking ball,” recalls Bernstein, who was then in his early teens. “By 10 o’clock, there was nothing to talk about.”
Trump insisted that he had only been seeking to protect pedestrians from falling debris and that the bas-relief had “no artistic value” anyway. He is said to have nonetheless kept a piece of the work – which featured two nearly naked women dancing with scarves – in his office in the tower that rose on the site. His primary reason for rushing the job seems to have been that he had to complete demolition before he could apply for a $25 million tax abatement. He is said to have been worried the eligibility criteria were about to change.
Bernstein went on to graduate from the Horace Mann School in the Bronx and to study classics at Vanderbilt University, Cambridge University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He settled in Nashville in 1992 and a boyhood interest in firearms along with the need to make a living led him to open the Eastside Gun Shop. His faith makes him something of a novelty in the gun business, and a local paper featured him on the front page in 2008.
“In Nashville, Tennessee, an Orthodox Jewish gun dealer is not a normal thing,” he noted to The Daily Beast on Monday.
Bernstein does not recall the man who came in one day in 2010 and purchased a used .32 caliber Beretta and four other guns, though he is certain he would have dutifully filed a multiple sale report, as required whenever somebody buys more than two firearms in a five-day period.
“I don’t remember the transaction at all,” he said.
Bernstein does remember a time when Trump was not only in favor of gun control, but also “as pro-choice as anybody” and decidedly liberal in his stated views.
“Today, it’s like a different person,” Bernstein said of Trump. “While I believe a person can evolve and change, I don’t know anybody in their sixties whose views have changed that much in that amount of time. It doesn’t happen.”
The earlier memory of Trump and the bas-relief and the wrecking ball left Bernstein not the least surprised that The Donald would change his professed opinions as it suited him.
“Trump has no basic principles as far as I can tell,” Bernstein said.
He is alarmed by the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“My problem is, once he gets into office, God forbid, you don't know what he’s going to do. He has no governing principles.”
For his part, Bernstein is a lifelong conservative. He said that he feels terrible for the two wounded officers, but he feels not at all to blame for having sold the gun that was used to shoot them.
“It would be like I sold a car to somebody and the guy got drunk and drove it into a school bus,” he said. “I did not have any responsibility for it.”
At least he is consistent in his beliefs. His only shift with regards to guns is that he closed his shop after eight years, in 2014.
“The nature of the gun business changed, the Internet changed it a lot,” Bernstein said. “There are a lot of online dealers.”
The profit margin for retailers was not great to begin with.
“Every sale, you basically said, ‘Do you want fries with that?’” he said. “In that business, fries are a holster, a cleaning kit, and ammunition.”
He retains his license, which allows him to serve as a go-between; folks who order online are prohibited from having guns just delivered to their home.
Bernstein also continues to be Bernstein in all ways and he is running as such for a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
“I’m an actual conservative,” Bernstein said, adding, “With libertarian leanings.”
The father of three has an elect Bill Bernstein Facebook page and a YouTube channel.
“I have ordered business cards,” he reported. “I ordered yard signs. I’m designing a palm card.”
Meanwhile, the fugazi conservative Trump was up in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday, meeting with police officers.
“What a great job you do,” Trump rightly said. “So many amazing people.”
He went on, “I am with you so much and I recognize the incredible job you have done. You’re not recognized properly. You will be recognized properly if I win.”
On the way out, Trump engaged in what was termed “sanctioned graffiti,” autographing the front of police headquarters so the cops would know he was thinking of them every time they headed out. He had another campaign appearance scheduled for the following day and snow was forecast overnight, but he nevertheless boarded the TRUMP plane for New York.
From LaGuardia Airport, Trump rode in his limo through streets the NYPD has made so much safer as too many of its officers have fallen victim to illegal guns.
That tweet is still up.
“Politicians are trying to chip away at the 2nd Amendment. I won’t let them take away our guns!”