WASHINGTON, D.C. – After the Parkland school shooting in Florida two years ago, President Donald Trump chided Republican lawmakers for being too “scared” of the National Rifle Association to tighten gun laws — then backed away from the idea.
After back-to-back mass shootings in Ohio and Texas in 2019, Trump embraced calls for “strong background checks” — only to backpedal once again.
Now, as he primes the pump on his 2020 reelection effort, Trump is going all-in on embracing the mantle of gun rights champion, a stark turn from earlier moments in his presidency when he toyed with the idea of pushing Congress to enact stricter gun laws.
There was no public discussion of tighter gun laws when Trump welcomed Parkland families to the White House for a private meeting on Monday, four days before the two-year anniversary of the rampage that left 17 dead. Instead, administration officials unveiled a website intended to help educators, parents and law enforcement address threats to school safety.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly warned supporters at his rallies that Democrats “will take your guns away.” Last month, he labeled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam a “whack job” as gun rights advocates protested the Democratic governor's moves to tighten gun laws in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Drawing a straight line from gun rights to presidential politics, Trump tweeted that Democrats in the state “will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!"
And on Monday night, as he came to the apex of an hourlong campaign speech in New Hampshire, Trump framed his supporters' Second Amendment right to bear arms as being as precious as the rights to privacy, free speech and religious freedom.
Campaign officials believe the effort could help put states like Minnesota, New Mexico and New Hampshire in play. For that to happen, Trump will need to draw even more rural and white men to the polls -- key groups that helped drive his 2016 surprise victory.