Donald Trump's Punctuated Evolution on Gun Control

The billionaire developer has abandoned his support for "assault weapon" bans and waiting periods.



With two days to go before the South Carolina primary, the Republican presidential candidates are squabbling over who is the staunchest defender of the Second Amendment. Ted Cruz warns that Donald Trump cannot be trusted to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who agrees that the Constitution guarantees an individual right to armed self-defense. "If Donald Trump becomes president," Cruz said on Sunday, "the Second Amendment will be written out of the Constitution, because it is abundantly clear that Donald Trump is not a conservative." Nonsense, says Trump. "I am the strongest person running in favor of the Second Amendment," he told reporters on Monday. "I am a member of the NRA."

Trump's position on gun rights does sound pretty strong. According to his campaign website, the billionaire developer opposes bans on "assault weapons" and "high-capacity magazines"; supports making carry permits valid throughout the country; views background checks as ineffective at preventing criminals from obtaining guns; and thinks buyers should not have to wait before taking possession of a newly purchased gun. In other words, he is just the sort of uncompromising Second Amendment ideologue that he used to view with disdain. Here is what Trump had to say about gun control in his 2000 book The America We Deserve:

It's often argued that the American murder rate is high because guns are more available here than in other countries. 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. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions….

I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today's Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.

Now that Trump is supposedly a Republican, I guess he feels a need to "refuse even limited restrictions." I happen to agree with the 2016 Trump, who says:

Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like "assault weapons," "military-style weapons" and "high capacity magazines" to confuse people. What they're really talking about are popular semi-automatic rifles and standard magazines that are owned by tens of millions of Americans. Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice. The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.

I gather that the 2000 Trump was confused by scary-sounding phrases, while the 2016 Trump, having taken a calm, careful look at the issue, recognizes the speciousness of the case for banning "assault weapons"—just as Trump changed his mind about abortion after he realized what that was all about. "I've evolved on many issues over the years," he declared during the August 6 presidential debate in Cleveland. There's no shame in changing your mind. Still, it's striking that Trump's evolution on abortion and gun control was not apparent until 2011, when he was thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination.