Election 2016 is radically different than any I can recall in my lifetime, mainly because there are so many unknowns. It’s pretty clear that there is pervasive frustration among large swaths of the citizenry. The fact that a non-traditional politician, Donald Trump, swept the primaries – even though both sides of the establishment put up every possible obstacle – tells us something. A lot of people are really tired of how Washington operates, on both sides of the aisle.
What has the traditional pundits completely stumped is what’s going to happen come election day. Sure, the mainstream media already has Hillary picking out new Lincoln bedroom wallpaper, but it’s also pretty clear that they’re resorting to desperate measures to prop up perpetual candidate Hillary. Why? Got me. Maybe they’re just giddy about the idea of the first woman president. Or perhaps it’s just general agreement with her policy positions. Or, more likely, they’re panicked that Trump will spoil “Hillary’s turn” to be president.
Whatever the cause, the blatant efforts to discredit one while ignoring the transgressions of the other is somewhat sickening if you still believe in the role of a free press in this country.
Admittedly, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that this election is going to be harder to predict than any other in my lifetime. On the flip side, I don’t expect too many surprises after the winner is in office. When it comes to the topic of guns and the Second Amendment, both candidates have been pretty clear about what their priorities would be as President of the United States.
With the usual caveat that elected officials often veer off into unexpected trajectories once they win the office, let’s take a look at two different Americas for the firearms owner, one under Hillary Clinton and the other under Donald Trump. While these scenarios are theoretical, I also think they’re realistic.
If we take Hillary at her word (that’s kind of funny I realize, but bear with me for a minute), one of her biggest short-term priorities will be to kill off the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005. She’s been railing on this law throughout the campaign.
To refresh your memory, this law was enacted to prevent the frivolous lawsuits being levied against the gun industry for the sole purpose of driving companies out of business by making the cost of doing business unsustainable. At the time this law was passed, the strategy du jour of gun control organizations was to file lawsuit after lawsuit, with or without merit, for the sole purpose of driving up the cost for gun companies to defend. If I had a lot of money and wanted to bankrupt you, all I would have to do is launch an endless stream of lawsuits against you. Whether or not they had merit would be irrelevant because you’d be forced to defend your innocence at great cost. The PLCAA was enacted to put a stop to that abusive behavior. Important note: In no way, shape or form does it release gun companies from liability from negligent behavior.
So how will Hillary kill the PLCAA? My bet is in the courts. Her rhetoric about the gun industry being the only industry in existence protected from their own bad behavior sounds logical and even rational – if you pay no attention to facts, details and truth. Yet that’s how the court of public opinion operates and, with hand-picked justices in Hillary’s Supreme Court, they’d likely find a convenient way to support the trial by media. Would Congress address it? I doubt it. Even with a slight Democratic majority, the election backlash after the Assault Weapons Ban is still fresh on the minds of those who dedicate their lives to the important public service of keeping their high-paying jobs and generous pensions.
The net result will be that gun companies will start to shut their doors. The privately owned ones simply won’t be able to sustain the eternal legal bills. Publicly traded companies such as Smith & Wesson and Ruger will experience shareholder pressure to either kowtow to government demands, or move into other lines of business. Shareholders want financial returns, it’s as simple as that.
Next on the list, I see a category gun ban. Again, even with a Congressional majority, which may or may not happen, a sweeping new law banning guns would not be a popular Congressional agenda item. With people opposing a new assault weapon ban by a ratio of two to one, that’s not likely to be a priority in the big voting rooms where legislative deals are made. The process of killing imports of “undesirable” guns, ammo and accessories is fairly easy. What’s harder, but still doable, is finding new regulatory gotchas that re-categorizes existing guns into “more evil” ones. Expect to see an endless list of re-categorizations, where each new rule removes a small set of guns from legal ownership or transfer. Remember the M855 ammo “re-categorization” effort earlier this year? Drip, drip, drip on this strategy.
Even without an outright category ban, it will be easy for Madame President to wreak havoc with executive actions, executive orders, and encouraging phone calls to her new federal employees. Remember, all those agencies that fill the parking lots of Washington D.C. report to the president. Unlike politicians, they can keep their jobs forever, so they’re going to listen to whatever boss currently has a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address on their business card.
If Hillary wants to create a boatload of new regulatory obstacles to selling firearms, all it takes is a phone call to 1-800-ATF. I can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities. She might dream up dozens of new onerous and expensive business practice regulations for anyone in the business of manufacturing firearms, ammunition or accessories. How about a quick memo or two to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve suggesting extra scrutiny on banks who have customers in the firearms business? In theory, Congress can stop such bad behavior. In reality, they’re not going to be able to deal with a flood of new regulatory garbage, even if they do have the will.
Here’s the bottom line: No president can or will execute a door-to-door gun round up and confiscation program. Those who argue that “Obama didn’t take away all the guns, so neither will Hillary!” are either stupid or intellectually dishonest. He’s done everything in his power – and much outside of his power – to dry up gun rights, ownership, importation and manufacture. That’s the strategy folks – death by a thousand cuts – not a one-time confiscation. In Obama’s case, gun control is not even one of his top priorities. In Hillary’s case, she comes right out and admits that gun control will be at the top of her to-do list. You can count on the “death by a thousand cuts” strategy to amp up by a factor of 10 under her administration.
By all indications, Candidate Trump’s sons have influenced his opinions on gun rights and Second Amendment issues. In Trump’s own words: “I have two sons who don’t just believe in the Second Amendment, they live it. They hunt, target shoot, shoot competitively and carry firearms for personal protection.”
Frankly, I’m optimistic about the gun culture in Trump’s America. In his words, “Over the past 15 years, I’ve learned a great deal about how we can protect the good people of this country from those who mean to do us harm. Gun control is not the answer – protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens is the answer.”
At the top of the list, and very soon into Trump’s term, I believe he’ll nominate conservative (and by that I mean constitutional) justices to the Supreme Court. We have one opening now, and others sure to follow in short order. He’s provided a list of twenty of so prospective candidates already, and the list is stellar. Simply put, I don’t see any upside for him to do otherwise. What possible benefit could he see to publishing a list like he has and then turning around and nominating another Kagan or Sotomayor?
Unlike Hillary, Donald isn’t an ideologue bent on reshaping the Second Amendment to his personal opinions. Besides, he cares about other things far more than gutting the Second Amendment, such as getting the economy moving and dealing with this health care fiasco.
I think Trump would also make some meaningful progress against the existence of gun-free zones. He states his intentions simply, “Gun free zones – we’re getting rid of them.” We live in a Democratic republic, not a dictatorship, so he wouldn’t be able to strike them down via executive order. However, even with an unfriendly media, the President of the United States owns the biggest microphone in the country. A drumbeat that educates the public on the fallacy of gun-free zones would go a long way toward driving state governments, local municipalities, and private businesses to make better decisions.
I also forecast that Trump will exert positive influence against Congress pushing for more national gun control legislation. One thing he has proven is that he’ll say what’s on his mind, regardless of what others think. I suspect he’d be consistently vocal over time about his refusal to sign any new gun control legislation landing on his desk. The odds of a gun control bill getting enough traction to override a presidential veto are about the same as Michael Moore becoming the next national 3-gun champion, so a clear and proactive message of non-support from the White House would likely have the effect of diminishing the number of hours that Congress spends fretting about gun laws.
Make no mistake: It’s very easy for a committed president to cause great damage, mainly because they can stack the Supreme Court and therefore control two of the three branches of government. In theory, Congress makes the laws and can override most anything coming out of the West Wing. In practice, when was the last time we saw Congress make a meaningful commitment to doing the right thing? That’s right, never. That’s why they have an 11 percent approval rating.
On the flip side, a president who believes in protecting Second Amendment rights can do a great deal. Some direct actions are possible, but the real impacts come from putting constitutional judges on the bench and using that big microphone in the Rose Garden.
So think about two Americas, then go vote.
Top image courtesy of NRA Competitive Shooting; candidate images from Trump and Clinton Facebook