Cynthia M. Allen

Trump's Gun Control Opportunity in Dallas

NRA members will not be allowed to carry guns, knives or other weapons when President Trump and Vice President Pence address the gun rights group Friday in Dallas.
NRA members will not be allowed to carry guns, knives or other weapons when President Trump and Vice President Pence address the gun rights group Friday in Dallas. AP

Earlier this week, critics of the National Rifle Association made short work of the announcement that "firearms and firearm accessories" would not be allowed in the convention hall this week when President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence address its annual meeting in Dallas.

Student survivors of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting lambasted the NRA for what they saw as gross hypocrisy by suggesting the arming of teachers but disarming its own members. Media outlets ran with headlines that ignored or failed to clarify how the ban on guns was imposed by the Secret Service — a standard operating procedure — and was not a decision by the NRA.

The incident is illustrative of the gun control debate in America today which is fueled by emotion, short on facts and therefore ripe for misunderstanding where compromise should be possible.

Enter President Trump — an authority on all three. He's speaking to NRA members in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas on Friday.

Critics of both Trump and the NRA think they have a pretty good idea of what he's going to say. After all, these are his people. But he could surprise them.

According to NPR, the NRA spent more than $30 million on Trump's presidential campaign — more than any other outside group.

Indeed, the NRA endorsed Trump early in the primaries despite his spotty record on gun control.

In years past, Trump supported an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for gun purchases, and mocked politicians who are beholden to the NRA.

As a candidate, he changed his tune. And perhaps because of his early gratuitous courtship, declaring even before he entered the presidential race, “I love the NRA. I love the Second Amendment,” the organization quickly embraced an unlikely candidate as its own.

Trump has remained loyal to this large supporter. In the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, when the organization became the whipping boy for those in need of a target for their righteous anger, Trump largely came to its defense.

But he also signaled, in his characteristically muddled Trumpian way, that there might be some room for compromise on gun control policy, including tighter background checks, mental-health restrictions and higher age limits for buying rifles. The NRA opposes raising the age requirement for purchasing guns.

Those are all reasonable reforms that could gain mainstream support if they were championed by someone positioned to make a deal.

Trump is no doubt indebted to the NRA, but his relationship with them, especially in the wake of a very public backlash, is not as symbiotic as it was during election season. The president may have the upper hand, and Trump rarely misses an opportunity to press an advantage.

As David A. Graham, a writer for The Atlantic explained earlier this year, the NRA's embrace of Trump despite his past declarations about gun control policy, probably mean that "as president, Trump can defy the NRA in a way that other Republican politicians cannot."

I think he's right. And what better place or time to take a stand than the organization's much publicized annual meeting?

As I've written before, many gun control proposals (particularly at the federal level) are window dressing. They would do nothing to regulate the more than 300 million guns already possessed by people in the U.S., and few could have prevented many of the most recent high-profile mass shootings which were made all the more possible by preventable law enforcement failures.

But Trump could use his speech as an opportunity to challenge the NRA to consider policy reforms that might have an effect, even on the margins, and that wouldn't threaten the average member's sensibilities. Supporting, or simply not opposing, the aforementioned mental health and age restrictions and stricter background checks might even help an embattled NRA to remake its image.

Trump does love to appear the hero as much as he loves to defy convention.

And what an opportunity he has in Dallas.