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Republicans Fret About Trump On Guns

There is a risk for Republicans in doing nothing, but there is also a risk in passing laws that would be unpopular with a large and vocal part of the base.

President Trump’s advisors are worried about his stance on gun control in the wake of a series of mass shootings. After active shooter attacks in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, the president has signaled that he is open to new gun control proposals including red flag laws and expanded background checks, but his advisors are concerned that such a move might erode his slim electoral edge from 2016.

“It’s very simple: There’s nobody that is more pro-Second Amendment than Donald Trump, ” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday, quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “But I don’t want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac, and I think if we do proper background checks, we can prevent that.”

Conservatives are split on the new proposals, but polling shows that the public at large strongly favors the new proposals, which even have broad support among Republicans. Sources say that Trump’s advisors have warned the president against embracing new gun laws despite their popularity.

“When you’re president because of a grand total of less than 78,000 votes spread out over three states, you don’t have to alienate too much of your base on an issue they care about to lose,” conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace said in the Journal.

Mr. Trump has long been soft on guns. Last year after the Parkland shooting, he said that he was open to an “assault weapons” ban championed by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The president didn’t follow on through that proposal but did ultimately use his bureaucracy to ban bump stocks. He seems to have paid no political price among Republicans for that action.

President Trump told reporters that “Don Jr. is my gun expert. He knows more about guns than anyone I know.”

Donald Trump, Jr. has expressed skepticism about the proposals for red flag laws and expanded background checks according to WSJ sources.

At this point, it is uncertain whether there is actual support from Republicans and the president for tighter gun laws, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that red flag and background check bills would be “front and center” in the Senate. McConnell specifically cited a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to extend grants to states enacting red-flag laws and a proposal for expanded background checks from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) as topics for discussion.

Gun legislation represents a minefield for Republicans. There is strong support for measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerously mentally ill people, but there is also strong opposition to any new gun laws from the right. There is a risk for Republicans in doing nothing, but there is also a risk in passing laws that would be unpopular with a large and vocal part of the base. If there are additional active shooter attacks by killers who were known to be threats before the election, the issue could become even more important to voters.

The most likely course for Republicans may be to take the middle road and slow walk the gun bills. If the bills get stuck in committee or fail to gain enough votes for cloture then neither congressional Republicans nor President Trump has to make a difficult stand on the issue. That would give Democrats another campaign issue, but it might well be one where they would overreach and allow Republicans to label them as “gun grabbers.”

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