Is Donald Trump Really Pro-gun?
Tom McHale 11.24.15
We’re going to do a series here at OutdoorHub to dig a little deeper on each Republican candidate to find out their real positions on the Second Amendment. Given politicians’ expertise in the art of doublespeak, this undertaking might be tougher than nailing jelly to a wall, but we’re going to give it our best.
Why only Republican candidates? The Democrat side is pretty clear on the issue. Surprisingly, at least during this presidential election cycle, they’re speaking their intentions openly. At least they get brownie points for being clear on where they really stand.
We’re going to do our best to filter through the campaign promises. After evaluation of what they say and what they’ve actually done in the past, we’ll offer our best guess as to what they really believe. In the end, you’ll have to make your own judgment call. Fair enough?
With that said, let’s start with that billionaire real estate and Miss USA mogul Donald Trump.
What he says
Publicly, Candidate Trump talks the talk of a Second Amendment champion. He’s taken the bold move of publishing some pretty positive-sounding platform positions on his campaign website. Here are a few nuggets from his Second Amendment Positions page.
The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.
So far, so good. But, as we know, just about every politician ever born has said they support the Second Amendment. It’s their interpretation that varies.
The Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental right that belongs to all law-abiding Americans. The Constitution doesn’t create that right – it ensures that the government can’t take it away. Our Founding Fathers knew, and our Supreme Court has upheld, that the Second Amendment’s purpose is to guarantee our right to defend ourselves and our families. This is about self-defense, plain and simple.
Okay, he’s not referring to the Second Amendment regarding “our hunting heritage,” so that sounds promising.
Here’s another important way to fight crime – empower law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves. Law enforcement is great, they do a tremendous job, but they can’t be everywhere all of the time. Our personal protection is ultimately up to us. That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit, and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well. It’s just common sense. To make America great again, we’re going to go after criminals and put the law back on the side of the law-abiding.
If we choose to take Trump at his word, he seems to get the deterrent concept of concealed carry and that victims are, by definition, always the first responder. He also holds a New York concealed carry permit, for what that’s worth.
Here are a few other select quotes from his official position statement.
“Gun and magazine bans are a total failure. That’s been proven every time it’s been tried.”
“Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons’, ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high-capacity magazines’ to confuse people. What they’re really talking about are popular semi-automatic rifles and standard magazines that are owned by tens of millions of Americans.”
“The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”
“Study after study has shown that very few criminals are stupid enough to try and pass a background check – they get their guns from friends/family members or by stealing them. So the overwhelming majority of people who go through background checks are law-abiding gun owners.”
“Too many states are failing to put criminal and mental health records into the system – and it should go without saying that a system’s only going to be as effective as the records that are put into it. What we need to do is fix the system we have and make it work as intended. What we don’t need to do is expand a broken system.”
“The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway. That’s why I have a concealed carry permit and why tens of millions of Americans do too. That permit should be valid in all 50 states. If we can do that for driving – which is a privilege, not a right – then surely we can do that for concealed carry, which is a right, not a privilege.”
“Banning our military from carrying firearms on bases and at recruiting centers is ridiculous.”
All in all, in recent years, he’s been pretty bold about his support for gun rights. However, if you look back further into his past, you’ll find somewhat less clarity and enthusiasm.
I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today’s Internet technology, we should be able to tell within 72-hours if a potential gun owner has a record.
That line and a couple of others that seem to support “reasonable restrictions” on gun rights are from his 2000 book, The America We Deserve. He’s been asked about these comments on a couple of occasions recently and has yet to explain clearly the difference in his words then versus now.
How he’s voted
As this is the first article in this series, we should make a quick observation about the significance of political votes. With almost every bill vomited from the Senate and House chambers, it’s difficult to assign too much meaning to someone’s core values based on their vote. Politicians are notorious for adding all sorts of unrelated garbage onto bills, so you never really know whether a proponent or opponent supports an issue or not.
When evaluating someone’s vote on a particular bill, you really have to peel back the layers before assigning credit or blame. The same concept applies to donations. There are many, many reasons people write checks, so it’s important to peel back the layers before making a judgement.
Now back to the Apprentice Maker. Our evaluation gets a little tricky here because he doesn’t have a voting record as he’s not a career politician. As a proxy, I decided to find out where he’s put his money in the past. Has he supported one side or the other in the Second Amendment debate?
One way to get a handle on Trump’s political leanings is to look at his overall contributions over the years to Democrats and Republicans. It’s not a perfect proxy for support or rejection of gun rights, but it’s an indicator, at least according to official party platforms and views of the leading candidates. While most people seem to believe that Trump has given more to Democrats, figures tallied by Politifact indicate otherwise. According to their math, over the past 26 years he’s donated $584,850 to Democrats and $961,140 to Republican candidates. However, it should be noted that his Republican-leaning donations began in 2012. Before that year, most of his cash went to Democrat candidates. Does that shift represent a change in values or is it just groundwork for a Republican nomination run?
Trump has donated about $105,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). It’s hard to tell how significant that is, but it’s the same group that recently awarded former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the Clinton Global Citizen Award for being, in presenter Vice President Joe Biden’s words, “most fierce and most effective advocate that we have on the matter of gun sanity.” In fairness, whether you agree with the CGI or not, they’re involved in a lot more than simply gun control.
Trump also donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago mayoral campaign. I can count the number of people more anti-gun than Rahm Emanuel on one hand. However, Rahm was going to be running the city where Trump has significant property holdings. Smart business? Perhaps.
Our best guess
You never really know what someone will do after the votes are counted. How would Trump really act once elected? More importantly, will he act aggressively on the issue or just pay verbal lip service? It’s easy to stand at the podium and talk about what we should do. Would he have the conviction to push big initiative through like shutting down the ATF, implementing national concealed carry protections, or removing restrictions on suppressors and short-barreled rifles?
His recent talk seems clear and convincing. On the plus side, he’s been more specific about exactly how he support Second Amendment issues than most any other candidate. He’s also detailed his position in writing in his platform. Many others will verbally state some nebulous support of gun rights in a speech, but are often reluctant to detail their views, especially in writing. On the flip side, his past positions are a valid reason for concern as he has yet to clarify a believable explanation for his apparent change of position.
As far as the donations go, it’s hard to draw conclusions one way or the other. As a businessman trying to get things done all over the country, it’s far more likely that his donations are a tool to gain support for his various development projects.
If you made me choose a position, I’d put Candidate Trump in the “gun rights supporter” column, but clearly Mr. USA has some additional explaining to do.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.