In the wake of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida, President Trump has delivered a series of remarks promising a ‘beautiful’ comprehensive gun bill that will expand background checks on gun purchases, remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill, bolster security on school campuses and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons.
Trump, clearly, sees an opportunity to triangulate between the National Rifle Association, firmly supported by much of his base, and the at least equally powerful gun reform lobby. He’s also recognising a political reality.
The Valentine’s Day massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida has shocked America deeply — even if only a third as many (seventeen) as died in the tragedy as in Las Vegas last year (fifty nine) or in North Florida the year before that (forty nine).
Somehow, it has rankled Republican demurral on gun control like never before.
This is not early 2013 under President Obama after the Newtown elementary school massacre. Do nothing and the Republican Party, dominant in federal politics and firmly in control of most of the states, risks a typhoon of cultural scorn.
The urbanite American president knows this all too well. He gave a clue last week when he asked a raucous CPAC crowd in Maryland last week whether tax cuts or guns were more important. Trump has the consummate salesman’s instinct for politics, and loves a consumer survey.
Social media has also become truly ubiquitous in the five years since Newtown.
This has dovetailed with the coming of age of a fully digital native ‘Generation Z’ that is increasingly radicalized. ‘The post-millennial movement against gun violence could solidify long-term Democratic support,’ declared Brookings yesterday. The Washington think tank is right. Some of the “stars” of the anti-gun survivor movement, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, have become television fixtures with a combined near 1.5 million Twitter followers.
The Republican Florida governor, Rick Scott, a Trump favorite, has already backed hiking the age for purchase of a firearm from 18 to 21 and new rules to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and the domestically violent. In doing so, he openly flouts the NRA.
Delta Airlines, a business staple of the South, along with other companies, have cut business ties with the powerful gun lobby.
Marco Rubio’s uneven performance at a CNN townhall – angry mob – hasn’t helped matters for the Right. ‘Alcoholics Anonymous but for Republicans who supported Rubio in the 2016 primary,’ riffed Daily Caller writer Joe Simonson.
As usual, the Democrats, emboldened by an increasingly radicalised left, risk overplaying their hand. Which gives the Republicans a chance to snatch a political victory by stealing the centre-ground on guns.
In comes a Republican chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The rhetoric of many Democrats – an assault weapons ban or full-on gun grab – is “moving beyond the 40 yard line” of voter appetite, according to one veteran Republican operative.
In the critical swing state of Pennsylvania, part of the former ‘blue wall’ that pushed Trump into the White House, locals “seem to be taking more nuanced positions on such issues” but are averse to radicalism, especially in the south-central part of the state, area political writer Charles McElwee tells me.
A certain former senior White House official says: ‘Need to hold the line or another reason base not fired up.’ It doesn’t seem Trump is listening.