Yesterday I wrote a column talking about how the post-Parkland gun debate is different from all previous post-shooting debates because of the spontaneous emergence of social media networks driven by high school kids. I’m not saying this is anything other than coincidence, but today’s New York Times is carrying a major article which basically says the same thing. Except that the NYT story goes beyond my basic point, describing in detail about how national gun-control organizations like Everytown have mobilized lobbyists, members and advertising to respond to the usual pro-gun defenses from the other side.
Most of what the NYT reportage said about the new-found strength of the gun-control community is correct. But their understanding of what is really driving the dynamics of what they refer to as the ‘anti-gun’ movement misses the larger point. Obviously, having Trump in the White House, as opposed to Obama, creates a fundamental difference when it comes to the public debate about guns. And it certainly is the case that what Trump says today about gun control may be very different from what he’ll say the next day or the next.
Trump’s behavior reminds me of what Sitting Bull once said about Crazy Horse after the massacre of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Back in 1868, both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a treaty which the U.S. Government broke before the ink was dry. Crazy Horse then claimed that he never signed the document, but when asked whether Crazy Horse did sign the treaty Sitting Bull replied, “Of course he signed – Crazy Horse would do anything for a free meal.”
So now we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who will say anything to grab the media spotlight, no matter whether he means it or not. Will Trump really push for increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns? Will he try to get the DOJ to figure out a legal maneuver that would ban bump stocks? Who knows what’s on his mind, but mind or not, I can tell you this: If Hillary Clinton was the 45th President, she would have gotten on Air Force One and flown down to Florida no later than the day after the shooting, done the requisite hospital visit, then thanked the first responders, photo-ops at every stop. At some point there would have been a tearful, emotional speech and a demand that Congress do what they should have done after Sandy Hook; i.e., pass some kind of legislation to ‘end this horrifying gun violence’ or words to that effect.
Wayne-o Lapierre talked for 37 minutes yesterday at CPAC, a speech which was the ‘official’ response to Parkland by the NRA. He started off with the usual bromides about the ‘terrible tragedy,’ this and that, but then went into a long rant about how the Democratic Party had been taken over by a European-style ‘socialist’ elite, whose headway had been briefly stopped by the election of Trump. The way Wayne-o rambled on and on about this threat, you would have thought that Barack Obama was still in the White House trying to figure out how to push the country further to the Left.
Every time there was a mass shooting since 2008, Gun-nut Nation could and did respond by attacking the guy from Kenya and turning gun control into an issue between ‘us’ – the good guys – versus ‘them.’ Which is exactly how Trump behaved throughout his entire Presidential campaign as well as his tenure in the Oval Office until February 14 when everything changed. And what changed is that, for the very first time, the public debate about a political issue is being defined by the kids. Not by the lobbyists, not by the organizations, not by the media and the editorial boards, but by the kids.
The best thing which has ever happened to the movement to end gun violence is that we no longer have a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank God for the kids.