On Thursday evening, a visibly angry President Obama offered his condolences in the wake of the nation’s latest mass school shooting but said that to prevent the next tragedy voters need to demand changes to the nation’s gun laws. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Obama said. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and the grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”
On Friday morning, an unusually calm Donald Trump offered his take on what can be done to prevent the next massacre on U.S. soil: nothing.
“First of all, you have very strong laws on the books, but you’re always going to have problems,” Trump said during a telephone interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We have millions and millions of people, we have millions and millions of sick people all over the world. It can happen all over the world and it does happen all over the world, by the way. But this is sort of unique to this country, the school shootings. And you’re going to have difficulty no matter what.”
Trump added later: “It’s not politically correct to say that, but you’re going to have difficulty and that will be for the next million years, there’s going to be difficulty and people are going to slip through the cracks. What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?”
You don’t have to squint to find the irony in Trump’s comments, and not just because the GOP front-runner managed to talk about a mass shooting without ever once directly mentioning guns, aka the very weapon of choice for this particular killer—just like it was for those murderers that came before him at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and the countless other schools that were the settings for similarly horrible violence. In that way, Trump’s not unlike the rest of his GOP rivals who, as my colleague Will Saletan notes, continue to maintain that gun violence isn’t a gun problem.
What’s so remarkable about Trump effectively throwing in the towel on this topic is that his whole campaign is predicated on the idea that he’d be able to fix all of the nation’s woes with the sheer force of his personality. Here’s a man, after all, whose heartless immigration policy is built on the premise that he’d construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that would ensure that no one—and especially not would-be criminals like the one man who allegedly killed Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco—could slip through the cracks, and yet here he is suggesting that there’s nothing to be done about school shootings because ultimately there will always be people who slip through the cracks.
But more maddening than any of that is that Trump is willing to acknowledge the reality that school shootings are a “unique” problem to this country, yet isn’t willing to even consider the other ways in which the country is also unique: The United States has more guns per capita than any other country in the world by a staggering margin; the country accounts for somewhere between one-third and one-half of all the civilian-owned guns across the globe despite accounting for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. Likewise, the United States has more gun-related homicides per capita and the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations.
If the Donald wants to talk about what makes America different from all the other “loser” countries, maybe he should start there.