In 2016, NRA-endorsed Republican candidate Donald Trump won the presidency after many months of insisting that his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton was going to grab your guns.
In February 2018, President Trump publicly called for a subversion of due process, and for the government to “take the guns first.”
During a televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, the president and assembled legislators spent the hour riffing on ideas for securing schools and curtailing gun violence in America. Trump ping-ponged between various policy positions and postures, invariably making unforced interjections that would make his staunchest pro-gun supporters cringe.
When Vice President Mike Pence talked about how those who are a “danger to themselves or others” should have their firearms taken away, but also afforded due process, the president jumped in to one-up Pence.
“Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump said, breaking with his own vice president on live TV. “Because that's another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures.”
The president continued, sounding like the caricature of “gun-grabbing” Democrats he’d once warned against: “I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida… To go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”
White House spokespeople did not immediately respond to questions on whether or not this was now the official position of the Trump White House. However, two administration officials told The Daily Beast that aides were already preparing “clarifications” for future statements or briefings in anticipation of being asked if the president wants to take away people’s guns without due process.
The comment did, however, rankle some feathers among Republican lawmakers. “Before you take away someone’s gun, they’re entitled to due process,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), a Trump ally, told The Daily Beast.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who has been critical of Trump, released a scathing statement suggesting that the president was exhibiting weak leadership skills.
“Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them. We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason,” Sasse said. “We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them.”
Trump’s gun-grabbing moment, of course, would be another addition to the ongoing trend of senior Trump aides claiming after the fact that the president did not say what he, in fact, said publicly.
“It’s to the effect of: the president was not talking about violating anyone’s rights, he was talking about keeping guns out of the hands of violent, mentally unstable people and criminals,” one official said, explaining what a canned response would look like.
In the course of an hour, Trump cast aside other key pillars of Republican orthodoxy on gun rights.
He endorsed legislation first pushed by the Obama White House to expand federal background checks for private gun sales, shot down GOP efforts to expand the rights of concealed carry permit-holders, and even suggested reviving a Democratic measure to ban “assault weapons.”
Trump wanted everyone in the room to be, in his words, “very, very powerful on background checks.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has pushed an assault-weapons ban for years, was visibly giddy as the president suggested including that measure in congressional gun-control legislation. “We’re gonna get it passed,” the president then declared.
For Trump, it was a reversion to positions he held nearly two decades ago. 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.”
After returning to the Capitol, Democrats who attended the meeting were elated but cautious that the president could renege on his promises like he did on immigration, when he promised to sign whatever legislation Congress sends him.
“He didn’t mince words about it. I don’t understand how, then, he could back away from that,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said. “I don’t know how much clearer he could have been.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said the onus is on Trump to deliver GOP votes on a comprehensive background-checks bill.
“He asked why nothing has happened. The reason why nothing has happened is because Republicans have given the NRA veto power on background-checks legislation,” Murphy said. “If the president is the deal maker, the closer that he claims to be, then he will deliver Republican votes on a background checks bill.”