For gun owners like me, it’s hard to forget President Trump’s promise on his 99th day in office, proclaiming that President Obama’s “eight year assault” on our Second Amendment rights had come to a “crashing end.” But in the years since Mr. Trump took his seat in the Oval Office, the “eight year assault” of the Obama administration has seemed more like a holiday by comparison. Just this week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on banning assault weapons. Yet, the response from the Republican administration has been deafening silence, leaving millions of American gun owners like myself powerless against the continual assault to our constitutional liberties.
Mr. Trump and the Republican Party at large haven’t done gun owners any favors. The administration has managed to ban possession of “bump stocks” by administrative fiat, making felons out of tens of thousands of gun owners overnight. It also supported state efforts to implement red flag laws, restrict the gun rights of young adults, and threatened gun owners with domestic surveillance and unconstitutional seizures. So much for that “crashing end” to the assault on the Second Amendment.
Mr. Obama’s administration, on the other hand, relaxed prohibitions on carrying firearms on federal land, and made it easier for people to acquire NFA items like suppressors and machine guns. Of course, it wasn’t all good. The administration also cracked down on homemade firearms and tightened some import restrictions.
But despite constant claims that Republicans are beholden to gun rights organizations, when the GOP held the entire government in 2017 and 2018, nothing changed — no concealed-carry reciprocity, no deregulation of firearm suppressors, no changes to any of the thousands of absurd regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). In fact, during the time the Republicans controlled the entire government, all that passed was stiffer background checks. Mr. Trump could’ve taken action on many of these items anytime he wanted. This doesn’t sound like a party under the thumb of gun owners.
Clearly, the GOP has gotten lackadaisical on the concept of civil rights. Some Republicans are even throwing support to dangerous red flag laws and other worrisome proposals, such as the TAPS Act, which would see law enforcement combing social media for “threats” to “manage.” Meanwhile, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear, Senate Republicans are waiting for Mr. Trump to hand them an agenda on gun control — entirely forgetting how our government is supposed to operate.
A seventh-grade civics class would tell you that it’s absurd for a president to tell the legislative branch what laws to pass. When it comes to laws that might abridge our rights, nobody should be deferring to anyone. But now the president is poised to tell the entire Republican Party just how much respect our Second Amendment rights are due, and it seems the GOP will follow along with whatever he says.
Of course, the majority-Democratic House has committed to redpen the Second Amendment out of existence. And since the Senate has deferred its judgment on our rights to the president, gun rights advocates need to make it clear to him that the haphazard approach he’s taken thus far with our civil rights will no longer fly. If we don’t, we’ll suffer yet another one of the proverbial thousand cuts. Unlike your flesh, though, cuts to our rights don’t heal after a few days.
The right to bear arms is about the right to stay alive — to have a real way to protect yourself against anyone who wishes you harm. For the ruling class sitting in America’s ivory towers with their security details, gated communities and quick police response times, that can be hard to understand. For the rest of America, especially those living below the poverty line, the threat of unlawful force is real, and having an effective mechanism for self defense is literally a life-or-death proposition. What the American people don’t need is one more excuse for an overzealous, militarized law enforcement to lock us in cages for victimless crimes.
What we need is for our government to respect our lives and liberty. Mr. Trump claims to be the champion of ordinary Americans. If he really means this, he could direct the ATF to roll back any one of the absurd regulations that are irrationally restricting the rights of Americans. Things like George H.W. Bush’s “sporting purposes test” — which keep effective, inexpensive arms out of the reach of ordinary Americans — are long overdue to be repealed. If we ever have a president who cares about the Second Amendment, he or she will actually work to restore our rights, not ever-so-slowly remove them while we aren’t paying attention.
• Matthew Larosiere is the director of legal policy for Firearms Policy Coalition and a senior contributor to Young Voices. He can be found on Twitter @MattLaAtLaw.