On Thursday afternoon, one of the leaders of the Senate offered a legislative proposal on guns that would codify the positions President Trump endorsed during a televised meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday. But that Senate leader wasn’t a Republican.
“I’m sure many of you in this room, and many Americans around the country, watched the president’s meeting on gun violence yesterday and were rather stunned and surprised—many of us, pleasantly—by what we saw,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the beginning of his press conference on Thursday. “I’d like to give credit where due: The president said a lot of things right yesterday.”
Among those, per Schumer: “He seemed to strongly endorse universal background checks,” and to “ensure that people who shouldn’t have a gun don’t have access to one.” Trump further “seemed open to an assault-weapons ban.”
Senate Democrats know as well as anyone how quickly the president can change his mind, and they wasted little time in turning those three positions into a legislative proposal for Schumer to introduce.
The first plank of the Democrats’ plan is “universal background checks.” “At a minimum,” Schumer said, it should close “loopholes” that allow people to purchase guns without background checks at gun shows or online. The second plank would be establishing protective orders allowing people to petition a court to temporarily disarm someone who’s shown signs of danger toward themselves or others. The third would be “a debate on assault weapons.” Schumer admitted that a decent number of members within his own caucus wouldn’t support an assault-weapons ban, but that it deserves floor time.
In a way, Schumer’s proposal was less gun-grabby than what the president was willing to put on the table Wednesday. The president insisted that law enforcement have the authority to “take the guns” from someone showing dangerous signs prior to obtaining a court order. Schumer’s plan would recognize constitutional protections.
As we saw during the meeting on Wednesday, part of what piques Trump’s interest on this issue is President Obama’s failure to pass any gun legislation and the opportunity to one-up him. Schumer played to that impulse in his remarks Thursday.
“The NRA has had the Republican Party in a headlock for decades,” he said. “Only the president, this president, will have the power to overcome their strength and finally get his Republican allies on the Hill to move to a place that embraces some common-sense gun safety policies.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Trump hadn’t walked back any of his stances from the Wednesday meeting, though he did tweet generally about respecting the Second Amendment on Thursday morning. But, as Schumer said, a single meeting isn’t enough. Judging by my conversations with Republican senators following the meeting, the president had not changed a single legislator’s mind yet in favor of expanding background checks. If Trump really does want to get a gun bill through, he’ll have to make it a top priority in the near future: giving speeches, twisting arms, making threats. All of it.
If he doesn’t, then nothing will happen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday, as the Senate was set to fly out for the week, that there would be no gun votes the following week. The impulse among the Senate majority is to let the gun issue disappear into the wind, as it has time and again. Will Trump let them?