Not since Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the 112th Annual Members Banquet in May 1983 has a sitting president attended a National Rifle Association convention. President Donald Trump will break that precedent on Friday when he takes to the stage at the NRA Leadership Forum in Atlanta.
Just 99 days into Trump’s presidency, and roughly one week before the 34th anniversary of Reagan’s appearance, the president will address a caucus that was critical to his winning vault into the Oval Office.
Is the NRA going to use their unprecedented support for Trump as leverage for increased power and political influence in Congress? Let’s take a look.
Dennis Henigan, a former VP of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and who wrote Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People, said that Trump’s commitment to the meeting is a sign that the president is aware of his debt to the National Rifle Association for election support.
“The fact that he decided to address the NRA convention is, I think, very significant and indicates that he still considers the NRA a very important part of his base. I have no doubt that pro-gun activists are among the most rabid Trump supporters, and he knows that and his people know that.”
According to figures reported by the Washington Post, the paper’s advertising revenue originating from the National Rifle Association more than tripled during the 2016 election with Trump as their frontman, as opposed to the amount they spent on the GOP’s 2012 candidate, Mitt Romney. Ken Goldstein, a University of San Francisco political scientist who specializes in newspaper advertising, said that the increased spending by the NRA was significant as it far outweighed the amounts spent by Trump’s super-PACs.
“The NRA provided crucial air cover for Trump in pivotal states at a critical time. The NRA saw a need and an opportunity.”
The chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, Chris Cox, shared his sentiments that Trump’s electoral win “sent a loud and clear message” to opponents that Second Amendment rights were not up for debate.
“In the face of threats against their constitutional freedoms, NRA members and Second Amendment supporters rallied to elect a pro-gun president. Trump’s victory repudiates the assertion by gun control advocates that the political calculus regarding the Second Amendment has changed.”
— NRA (@NRA) November 9, 2016
For conservatives, and particularly members of the National Rifle Association lobby, Donald Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch, Jeff Sessions, and Ryan Zinke – all allies of the NRA – to key positions in American government arms has been celebrated as a victory to pro-gun activists.
But Trump was not always an NRA ally. In 2012, he openly backed then President Obama’s outspoken condemnation of a poorly regulated gun industry.
President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2012
During the 2016 campaign, Trump made a stunning about-turn on his gun-control stance, from being pro-control to being anti-control. He promised the NRA that he would protect the Second Amendment right at all costs. In the first few days of Trump’s presidency, he made good on his promise by signing an executive order to repeal Obama-era legislation that placed restrictions on gun ownership.
But it hasn’t all been moonshine and roses, as The Daily Beast reported, as gun sales have seen a significant decline since Trump took office. Experts think it might have something to do with the fact that a common threat to Second Amendment rights, former President Obama, is no longer in office. Already instant background checks performed by the FBI were recorded at roughly a million less than at the same time last year. Mike Bazinet of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) speculated that the decline was due to a dissipation of “political concern” that “there would be increased firearms laws.”
Also speaking for the NSSF, senior VP Larry Keane believes that the National Rifle Association needs to be realistic about the scope of their political requests.
“Just because Trump won the election and Republicans control both chambers of Congress doesn’t mean you can walk in there with your Christmas list and get the pony.”
However, the NRA doesn’t share Mr. Keane’s sentiments. In fact, pundits believe that the gun lobby will actively be seeking further legislative measures that would buttress the NRA’s agenda.
Some of the measures’ gun lobbyists are calling for tapering of federal background checks for concealed carry permit holders, a total repeal of schools as gun-free zones, an elimination of funding for anti-gun states that enforce restrictive legislation, and the Hearing Protection Act that would do away with identification requirements for anyone wanting to purchase a gun silencer.
But one of the National Rifle Association’s priorities is the introduction of a bill that would effectively make concealed-carry permits valid and transferable across state lines. The concept is one of reciprocity, and it would force anti-gun states to allow permit holders to carry concealed firearms.
Considering that the NRA spent over $30 million on Donald Trump’s election campaign, it’s hard to believe that the lobby would not be seeking a return on their investment. This much was made clear in a propaganda video that was released by NRA vice-president Wayne LaPierre earlier this year.
In the minute-long video we see statements such as “we won the battle” and “they couldn’t handle it,” while at the same time describing Trump’s critics as sore losers who have “started a war.” It also includes narration by Mr. LaPierre in which he says that “the forces that conspired to keep Donald Trump out of the White House are coming together to sabotage his administration.”
— NRATV (@NRATV) February 22, 2017
In a somewhat ironic twist, the Secret Service released a statement banning all firearms from the NRA event.
“The Secret Service works closely with our local law enforcement partners in each state to ensure a safe environment for our protectees and the public. Individuals determined to be carrying firearms will not be allowed past a predetermined outer perimeter checkpoint, regardless of whether they possess a ticket to the event.”
What Donald Trump will say to his investors at Friday’s gun-free National Rifle Association Leadership Forum remains to be seen, but all indications are that the president will have to bend over backwards to appease his ardent backers.
[Featured Image by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]