How Do Gun Owners Solve a Problem Like The Donald?

The following represents my Donald Trump ‘nightmare scenario’ for gun owners. This will involve talking about my own observations and feelings rather than specific, scientifically-verifiable facts. Don’t take any of this to the bank. If the results from Super Tuesday conform to expectations, Trump will be well ahead of his opponents in the race for the GOP nomination. I can’t say for sure that he would win the general election since, according to recent polls, he’s trailing Hillary! in most head-to-head match-ups among registered voters. Then again, polls for the general mean very little this early out and this has been such a bizarre year that I’m tempted to say that anything is possible . . .

I suspect that the full-court press by the GOP establishment types in the media will be remembered, to borrow from more recent history, as their Battle of Xuan Loc. The last battle of a doomed effort where an otherwise ineffectual and corrupt Army finally woke up, realized that their butt was on the line, that no one was coming to rescue them, and for the first time got their act together and fought with all their heart and soul, doing the best anyone could have done in the circumstances, and actually made a good show of it.

Right up to the point where they lost, anyway. I’m sure they did their best, as Sean Connery once put it.

GOP propaganda about Rubio notwithstanding, it seems to me that if you’re a single-issue voter on the Second Amendment, Ted Cruz is the strongest advocate that we could probably hope to see in the White House. The problem is that while there are over a hundred million gun owners in the nation, few of them are truly single-issue voters.

Politically, financially, a lot of people have other political fish to fry, and Trump is making serious inroads across a variety of interest groups and demographics. For all kinds of reasons related to the economy, political failures of the establishment, and so forth.

I suggest that advocates of the right to keep and bear arms need to start thinking about what we do in the event that Donald Trump is elected President.

Obviously, if The Donald wins, Hillary Clinton will have been denied the presidency. This is, as Martha likes to say, a good thing. Trump has made some favorable statements in the past about the right to keep and bear arms. He says he’s going to defend the Second Amendment. This may mean that gun banning won’t have much of an audience. Maybe.

What has gone mostly overlooked in the furore over Trump’s in-your-face personality and his positions on immigration, the Iraq War, and free trade, is that Trump has created enough strategic ambiguity on his political positions that it’s pretty hard to predict what he would *actually* do about any given issue.

If you’ve read The Art of the Deal (and it is worth reading if you want to learn about how the Trumpster operates,) you’ll see that his magnum opus is virtually a poem in iambic pentameter devoted to the glories of keeping one’s options open, of manipulating the media for free publicity, and of asking for a mile in the hopes of getting a yard. In other words: exactly what we’ve been seeing from Trump throughout the campaign so far.

As Scott Adams put it:

If you have been watching the news lately you know that Donald Trump disavowed the endorsement of racist David Duke. Unless you are watching CNN, in which case, their version of the news is that he didn’t do enough disavowing that one time.

If you’re a racist, you have a reason to like Trump because of CNN’s intentional misreporting and the fact that Trump didn’t do enough disavowing that one time. If you’re not a racist, you can like Trump because he disavowed racists several times, in writing and on video.

That’s strategic ambiguity.

If you hate socialized healthcare, you might like Trump, because he hates socialized medicine too. Except that he also says he won’t let people with no money “die on the streets.” So if you like socialized medicine, you might like giving free healthcare to those people, like Trump.

That’s strategic ambiguity.

If you hate illegal immigrants, you might like Trump because he says he will deport every one of them. But if you feel compassion for illegal immigrants who are otherwise good residents of the country, you know Trump always makes a big first offer and will later negotiate to something humane and reasonable.

That’s strategic ambiguity….

I could go on like this for another hour or so, but I think you get the picture. And when you see the pattern, you realize none of it is by accident. Trump intentionally gives opposing sides reasons to like him, or at least not disqualify him. And as ridiculous as it seems for a strategy, it works like a charm because of confirmation bias. People see whatever they want to see.

Blogger Ann Althouse treads a similar path, talking about some damaging audio tapes of Trump that the New York Times allegedly has of him talking off-the-record with them earlier this year:

Trump speaks to us and Trump speaks to the NYT. I presume he’s sort of lying all the time. I presume that about all politicians.

The NYT got what it got out of him, under the conditions of off-the-recordness. We get what we get out of the NYT, under the conditions of its interest in maintaining the capacity to assure sources that it will keep its promises. And we presume the NYT is biased in various ways and that it’s selecting and skewing what it’s giving us. Right now, it’s under pressure to release more than it normally would, and the argument is that the impending nomination of Donald Trump presents a special case and the usual rules do not apply.

As for that “second sentence” — “So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session” — it reinforces what intelligent observers already assume and feel we’ve more or less heard in Trump’s public statements.

Right. That’s also how I’ve viewed The Donald’s outlandish promises about building a wall funded by Mexico, deporting illegal immigrants, banning foreign Muslims from entering the country, et cetera: the opening bids in an extended negotiation process that both sides want to complete.

That fits in not just with the way he repeatedly describes himself as a dealmaker who can get business done with anyone, but also comports with the behavior he’s demonstrated as a businessman since before I was born. In fact, by all appearances (and his own testimony in The Art of the Deal, he loves making deals. “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score,” he writes. “The real excitement is playing the game.”

So where does that leave gun owners?

Well, he’s repeatedly said that he endorses the right to carry a firearm, particularly a concealed handgun, for self-defense purposes. I actually believe him here, for one simple reason: his statement here is likely motivated by basic self-interest. He doesn’t back down from a fight, and I could easily see the days when he was doing bare-knuckled real estate, collecting rent from deadbeat tenants teaching him some hard lessons. Throw in a little ego, and that makes sense to me.

You know where I don’t believe him, though? His statements about how he opposes bans on modern rifles, or magazine capacity limits, or universal background checks for all firearms purchases. Why? Because he has no skin in the game there, really. He’s not a hunter, he’s not a shooting sports enthusiast, and he grew up in New York City, which is (culturally and politically) ground zero for gun control.

So this is the Trump nightmare scenario for gun owners:

For some reason President Trump decides he wants to make a deal on guns. (Maybe there’s some mass shooting; maybe there’s a terrorist attack where the terrs got their firearms legally; maybe he just wakes up and decides he needs an issue to distract people from some other problem.)

He decides to make a deal, looking for a poitlical win. But he knows he needs to make both sides happy — or at least feel like they got something real from the deal, so he focuses on a compromise along these lines:

1. Nation-wide firearms carry licensing, either through mandated reciprocity or a federal licensing scheme, or some combination of the two. (And let’s stipuate that any federal licensing would be fairly, affordably, and objectively carried out, not some Baltimore-style licensing scheme only for the rich and powerful.)

2. Silencers permanently off the NFA list, and available for sale next to the earplugs in the ear, nose, and throat aisle of every corner drugstore, just as any other item that protects auditory health and safety.

3. Repeal of the Gun Free School Zones Act.

4. Strengthening protection of FOPA to include the carriage of ammunition and magazines across state lines.

In exchange for that, here’s four things that the gun-banners would drool over:

1. Universal background checks for all firearms purchases, essentially ending private firearms transfers entirely.

2. Adjusting the tax on NFA items to reflect inflation since the 1930s. (Again, doesn’t apply to silencers, but would apply to SBRs, full auto, ‘other’ stuff.)

3. Some sort of magazine size limit. Let’s say 20 rounds – just enough to feel it, not enough to affect the day-to-day of anyone who owns a handgun with 18 round magazine.

4. Some sort of restriction on future sales of certain types of late-model rifles. Maybe a restoration of the previous so-called assault weapons ban. Maybe some variation of it. But some type of restriction.

If Trump managed to get himself elected, then turned around and pushed a ‘compromise’ like this do you think he could get it to pass? Political predictions are a sucker’s game–especially this year–but I wouldn’t bet against it. Not after everything I’ve seen happen this year.

Here’s a question: why did Manchin-Toomey fail back in 2013? It wasn’t just because we as gun owners were united in opposition to it. We were, and this was a big win for us, but there was more to it than that. We were helped immesurably because the gun banners were coming at us dumb.

Not only was the bill badly worded, and was (rightly) seen as a compromise that didn’t give us nearly enough, but the gun banners had reached for too much. They actually thought they could eviscerate the Second Amendment, riding the wave of Barack Obama’s re-election and the national revulsion over Sandy Hook. They had become, in the words of my Contracts professor, a pig that became a hog — and got slaughtered.

They won’t be as dumb next time. And if we have a president who is a consummate pragmatist who gets his kicks from making deals, well…what result? I don’t know. But I am worried.

Although the gun banners have tried splitting the hunters against the concealed carry and modern shooting sports enthusiasts, no one has tried, for example, to appear to the burgeoning concealed handgun/self defense group. If someone really wanted to make a deal…well, they would try it, wouldn’t they? I’m not that smart, and I thought of it.

What if your primary interest in guns is concealed carry, and you own no rifles, and someone comes along and offers a compromise that will improve your day-to-day life carrying a firearm, while restricting some guns that you don’t own?

Well, all of a sudden you’re asking people to give up a real gain for the abstract good. Do people really do that? I’d like to think so, but the dispassionate realist in me thinks they might act differently.

I don’t have an answer as to how we would approach this kind of situation. I do know that we have to start thinking about it. Now. I also know that regardless of who wins the White House, if you think the usual political strategies that have been successful in the past will continue to work in the future, ask yourself: what happened to Jeb?

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