In the wake of a string of mass shootings across the country, President Donald Trump is exploring taking some executive or administrative actions to address the gun epidemic, according to Politico. If he does circumvent Congress to enact gun reform, he would be directly contradicting his past criticisms of President Barack Obama.
Trump’s core policy inclination has been to oppose anything that had Obama’s fingerprints on it. In 2013, when the Obama administration was considering using executive orders to address guns, Trump was vehemently opposed.
“This is how it starts. Obama is now threatening to use an Executive Order for gun control,” he tweeted at the time.
This is how it starts. Obama is now threatening to use an Executive Order for gun control http://t.co/buNU2IuD Welcome to his 2nd term.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2013
Ultimately, Obama never used an executive order to reform gun laws, but he did take several executive actions a few years later in 2016, such as overhauling the background check system and hiring more agents to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Obama also instituted a rule requiring the Social Security Administration (SSA) to keep the background check system apprised of recipients who are prohibited from owning a gun for mental health reasons — a rule Trump rescinded early into his administration.
Despite his past criticisms of Obama’s use of executive power, Trump has used his power in the same way. He already banned bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly, through executive action much in the same way Obama issued the SSA rule. Beyond the issue of guns, Trump also used his “national emergency” powers to circumvent Congress and pay for his border wall, and he also recently used an executive order to force the collection of citizenship data by federal agencies after his administration failed to add a citizenship question to the Census.
Though Attorney General William Barr has been rather subservient to Trump’s leadership so far, he strongly supports more gun control restriction. In fact, many gun groups opposed his nomination earlier this year because he believes in “reasonable regulation” of the Second Amendment. He also specifically supports Extreme Risk Protection Orders, commonly known as “red flag laws,” which allow family members or police to request courts take guns away if someone is acting in a way that could be a threat to themselves or others.
Trump already voiced support for such a proposal this week. Given this internal pressure, Trump could ultimately take actions that actually do help curb gun violence, but it will likely will require him to contradict his own past opposition to gun control and his promises to gun groups.
For example, although Trump appeared to support background checks in 2013 “to weed out the sicko’s [sic],” he also opposed any form of gun registration system and more generally expressed opposition to any kind of gun control.
Did the Boston terrorists register their guns? No. Another example of why gun control legislation is not the answer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2013
“I have a very strict gun control policy: if there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it.” – Clint Eastwood
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2013
In 2015, Trump gave an interview to AmmoLand, in which he falsely asserted, “Gun control does not reduce crime.” He confirmed that he actually opposes background checks. “I do not support expanding background checks,” he said at the time, because “the current background checks do not work.” In a statement at the time that would contradict his future bump stock ban, he also claimed that “gun magazine limits do not make common sense.”
It remains unclear what executive actions the administration is even considering. In Trump’s remarks about the recent shootings Monday, he didn’t even mention any possible solution related to curbing guns. Instead, he repeated myths about the impact of video games and mental health on shootings. If the crisis of the moment convinces him that something has to be done about the availability of guns, he will have to engage in blatant political hypocrisy to accomplish it, which unfortunately could be the very reason he never does.