SAN DIEGO – I’m not used to defending President Trump, and I’m even more unaccustomed to feeling sorry for him. Now I’m doing both because of the raw deal that he got after a recent televised meeting on gun policy with lawmakers from both parties.
When Trump gets something wrong, the media and the special interests are quick to pounce. They ought to be just as good at acknowledging when he does something right.
First, Trump deserves praise – especially from the media – for opening up the process and changing how politics is covered. He occasionally invites television cameras into what were once closed-door meetings. It used to be that the president and lawmakers could say whatever they wanted in private with no way to hold them accountable. Then, later, they could say something different to the media. But when the proceedings are televised, everyone is on notice that what they say matters.
Next, Trump should get credit for doing something that you rarely see any Republican do at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue: challenging the National Rifle Association. The president noted that the NRA has a headlock on Congress but insisted that the organization will go along with reasonable reforms. If not, he said, he’s ready to fight them.
Trump is due another round of applause for the fact that – during the meeting itself – he exhibited calm leadership, mature restraint and shrewd negotiating skills.
Unlike the adolescent who doesn’t seem to think before he tweets, the person who chaired the discussion on guns sounded like a grown-up. He also sounded like the father of an 11-year-old boy who plays video games, including some that Trump acknowledges are extremely violent. The president thinks we should look at the effect that such games might be having on young people.
Trump also refused to go along with highly controversial reforms like outlawing assault weapons or requiring all states to honor concealed carry permits. He understands that – while he can signal what reforms he would support – it’s the job of the legislative branch to draft a bill. Besides, he knows what items would be deal killers for each side, and he cautioned the lawmakers not to include them because they could derail the whole process.
As for Trump’s own view on guns, he displayed a lot of common sense when he asked how it is that someone has to wait until he turns 21 to legally purchase a handgun, but he can buy a rifle at 18. This includes the high-powered, semi-automatic AR-15 that is increasingly the gun of choice for mass murder.
Gun proponents argue that young people between the ages of 18-21 may like to hunt, and they have the right to do so.
But while the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, it doesn’t say anything about purchasing them. Someone may have to do that for you. In fact, when I was 16, I had a small-caliber hunting rifle because my dad bought me one. And if you haven’t yet reached a certain age, your parent or guardian is free to buy you a gun if they think you’re responsible enough to handle one.
Finally, while it angered many conservatives, Trump may well have the law on his side when he talked about getting around due process and finding a way to let family members immediately take guns out of the hands of dangerous people and then go to court to petition for the right to seize them.
There is a public-safety exception to constitutional requirements of due process when going through the normal procedure could put people’s lives in danger. So noted the Supreme Court in a 1984 case called New York v. Quarles, which recognized that a police officer could be exempt from reading a suspect his Miranda rights – consistent with the Fifth Amendment – if there was an emergency. In the Quarles case, the officer had to find a loaded handgun in a public place.
All in all, Trump performed quite well in the televised meeting over guns. So well that the liberal media is now desperately putting out another narrative suggesting that the president has backed off much of what he said at that discussion, under pressure from the NRA. The organization said as much to its members, but the White House denies that it has reversed course.
With all the spin and competing agendas, it’s hard to know what to believe. Ultimately, results are what matter. Let’s see some.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright, The Washington Post Writers Group. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.