The 2024 GOP Platform Barely Mentions Gun Rights

Gun Rights

The 2016 Republican Party platform, which condemned Democrats for proposing laws that would “eviscerate the Second Amendment,” devoted three paragraphs to gun rights. The 2020 platform did not discuss the subject at all because there was no 2020 platform; the party instead promised to “enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” This time around, the Republican National Committee (RNC) did approve a platform. But as The Reload‘s Jake Fogleman notes, the RNC has excised any mention of the Second Amendment except for a passing reference.

That reference appears in a list of “twenty promises that we will accomplish
very quickly when we win the White House and Republican Majorities in the House and Senate.” The seventh promise says Republicans will “defend our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms.”

This cursory treatment of the Second Amendment is consistent with the reality that the current Republican Party wants whatever former President Donald Trump wants. Despite his lip service to the right of armed self-defense, Trump has never been a true believer, as his flirtation with the Democratic gun control agenda after the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas illustrated.

In addition to imposing a unilateral ban on bump stocks that was recently overturned by the Supreme Court, Trump met with members of Congress in February 2018 to discuss gun regulation. During that meeting, he spoke favorably of requiring background checks for all gun transfers, raising the minimum age for buying long guns, preemptively confiscating guns from people who might be dangerous, and even banning so-called assault weapons, to the visible delight of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (DCalif.).

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Trump’s receptiveness to those ideas dismayed the National Rifle Association (NRA), but it looked like a reversion to his actual opinions. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, he staked out a middle ground on gun control between “the extremes” of the two major political parties.

“Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed,” Trump wrote. “The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions.” By contrast, he said, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

By 2011, when Trump toyed with the idea of seeking the Republican presidential nomination, he was flatly declaring that “I am against gun control.” Two years later, he described himself as “a very strong person on the Second Amendment.”

Trump staked out a similar position during his 2016 race, calling himself “a big Second Amendment person,” in contrast with then-President Barack Obama, “a non–Second Amendment person.” Asked whether he supported new gun laws to prevent mass shootings, he replied, “The gun laws have nothing to do with this. This isn’t guns. This is about really mental illness.”

Were there “any circumstances” in which Trump would favor “limiting gun sales of any kind in America?” a moderator asked during a 2016 debate. Trump’s response was unqualified: “No.”

In reality, Trump did support some forms of gun control, including “red flag” laws and a ban on firearm possession by people on “no fly” lists. As president, he went so far as to say that the police should “take the gun first” and “go through due process second” when they think someone is dangerous.

Before he secured the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in his 2015 book Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America, Trump (or his ghostwriter) waxed eloquent about the importance of the Second Amendment:

The fact that the Founding Fathers made it the Second Amendment, second only to our First Amendment freedoms of speech, religion, the press, and the right of assembly and to petition the government, shows that they understood how important the right to bear arms would be for all Americans…

We all enjoy this fundamental right in order to defend ourselves and our families. The Founding Fathers knew it was essential to a free society and passed this amendment to make sure the government could never take it (or our arms) away. Throughout history, we’ve seen oppressive governments consolidate and ensure their control over those they govern by taking away the means necessary for citizens to defend themselves…

The Second Amendment was created to make sure Americans could protect themselves from tyranny. There is no way we will change it.

Trump went on like that for a couple of pages. The platform approved by the Trump-dominated GOP manages just seven words. But if gun rights supporters are unhappy about that, they can hardly expect anything better from the Democrats.

In 2016, Democrats erased the Second Amendment from their platform, reverting to the approach they took in 2000 and earlier. The 2016 platform mentioned “the rights of responsible gun owners” but said nothing about the extent of those rights or the legal basis for them. The 2020 platform likewise did not mention the Second Amendment; it did not even mention “the rights of responsible gun owners.” But it did include two paragraphs of gun control proposals aimed at “Ending the Epidemic of Gun Violence.”

Like abortion opponents, Second Amendment advocates probably will feel they have no option but to support a Republican candidate who seems wishy-washy on their issue but is better than the alternative. “The Republican Party platform’s downplaying of Second Amendment issues comes as the gun-rights movement finds itself in a precarious position politically,” Fogleman writes. “As guns have become increasingly polarized along party lines, gun-rights supporters have found themselves reliant on Republicans for political support. President Joe Biden has made gun control a fixture of his tenure in office and is already campaigning on even more sweeping proposals, including a ban on sales of the popular AR-15, in a potential second term. At the same time, while the GOP’s current standard-bearer has continued to seek the support of the National Rifle Association and make promises in speeches to the group, he has been fickle on gun policy at times.”

Trump is not the only candidate in this race whose views on gun control have changed with the political winds. As a senator in 1985, speaking in favor of the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, Biden sounded like Trump circa 2000.

“I believe the compromises that are now a part of this bill have resulted in a balanced piece of legislation that protects the rights of private gun owners while not infringing on law enforcement’s ability to deal with those who misuse guns or violate laws,” Biden said. “During my twelve and a half years as a member of this body, I have never believed that additional gun control or federal registration of guns would reduce crime. I am convinced that a criminal who wants a firearm can get one through illegal, nontraceable, unregistered sources, with or without gun control.”

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