This may be a problem that only Donald Trump could fix.
In the wake of another tragic shooting, both sides of the political spectrum immediately adopt reductionist solutions: For liberals, gun control is the only answer—even though it’s often hard to see how a given law would have prevented a given tragedy.
For conservatives, the solution is dealing with mental health (though this often comes across merely as a way to parry the debate, altogether) and arming teachers with guns.
Anyone who objects to the notion that gun control is the only solution is generally portrayed as evil, uncaring, and a tool of the NRA. Anyone who supports even modest common-sense gun control is either a gun-grabbing fascist, or a patsy who is opening the door for mass gun confiscation.
What if both sides have it wrong? What if this is a much more complex problem that will require a combination of overlapping common-sense solutions? And what if we have just the man to make this sales pitch?
Ironically, Donald Trump may be the only man who could thread this needle. In doing so, he could gain popularity and cement a lasting legacy.
That’s because Trump is viscerally trusted by blue-collar gun owners, a fact that grants him the flexibility to make deals that would brand other Republicans a “sellout.”
There’s also reason to believe he might actually be philosophically amenable to this. In his past life, the New York billionaire supported moderate gun-control measures. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump wrote: “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”
What if Donald Trump was actually serious about championing a comprehensive set of solutions that dealt with the complex causes of this problem?
The honest truth is that I suspect there are many factors contributing to the school shooting trend—and that any solution must include a multi-pronged response.
On one hand, we can look at the fact that other developed countries do not experience these school shootings and draw some conclusions. Some of this may well have to do with some deep-seated cultural differences (American exceptionalism in its worst form, if you like), but our Second Amendment, and the concomitant gun laws, are at least a part of the equation.
But it seems to me that any sincere effort to actually address this problem (as opposed to scoring political points) and gain enough votes to actually pass something would involve: (a) some form of common sense gun control; (b) the ability for parents and authorities to force a child to obtain mental treatment, and for law enforcement to monitor (and in the most serious cases, detain) those deemed truly dangerous; (c) dramatically increased security at schools (and I’m open to teachers packing heat—but that’s not the only option); (d) a public information campaign aimed at preserving a strong family structure—and raising awareness about parent’s responsibilities to report behavior that is spinning out of control; (e) policies that empower the police and FBI actually follow protocols and aggressively pursue tips—as well as severe punishments for officers who fail to investigate; (f) stronger efforts to stop school bullying; (g) a serious effort to voluntarily curb, shame, or censor violent entertainment aimed at children—particularly violent “shooter” games.
Could this actually get done?
I should probably concede that I thought Donald Trump had a similar opportunity to tap into the “Only Nixon can go to China” narrative by backing a compromise immigration reform agenda. The fact that four different immigration bills failed to make it out of the Senate on Thursday does not bode well for those of us who want to believe that our political system is still not broken.
And this issue is actually much harder to fix than immigration. There are good reasons why it’s almost impossible to fix any of the fundamental problems that are leading to this crisis.
Any change to gun laws has to comport with our Second Amendment rights, and would have to overcome objections that it is a stepping stone to confiscation. Moreover, conservatives may say they want to empower law enforcement to intervene in the case of someone struggling with mental problems, but this is in tension with our “Big Brother” fears and our libertarian impulses. Mistakes, no doubt, would be made. Do we really want to empower loved ones to have us committed just because we’re going through some weird “Goth” stage in middle school? The notion of censoring violent entertainment sounds similarly anti-American and prudish (see Tipper Gore). And the idea that schools should have metal detectors would be a tacit admission that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Likewise, the idea that teachers should be armed to the teeth seems simultaneously dystopian and laughable—even though it’s an idea any parent who has been told an active shooter is on campus would immediately support.
I guess the question is: Do we really want to get serious about this, or not? What’s the alternative? Wait until he next school shooting?
Our greatest hope for action may be that it would be in Trump’s self-interest (whether he knows it, or not) to actually fix some of our problems.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, because his biggest backer was the NRA, Trump could also have a “Sister Souljah” moment. I know what Bill Clinton would do here, but Donald Trump has shown no inclination to move beyond his base—even if it meant pleasing the general public.
It won’t be easy. But (ironically) America has elected the guy who could possibly get it done—if he only cared to.
The sad truth is that I don’t expect anything to happen. This cynicism is a product of experience. The smart political analysis is to say that if Newtown couldn’t get people to take this serious, what will?
There are a million reasons why this hasn’t gotten done these last 20 years, but as a father of two school-aged children, there are two really big reasons I want this fixed now. Donald Trump is uniquely positioned to actually do something to stop the next school shooting. Will he rise to the occasion?