Trump's supporters can't decide whether he's flip-flopping on gun control or playing the 'long game'

  • President Donald Trump’s supporters scrambled to comprehend his remarks during a White House meeting on gun control on Wednesday.
  • Trump appeared to back several strong gun-control measures, particularly raising the age of firearms purchases to 21 from 18.
  • Some Trump supporters were stunned and angered by the meeting, while others insisted it was all part of his long-term strategy.

In the wake of a riveting White House meeting on gun control, President Donald Trump’s base was left scrambling to react to his apparent endorsement of several Democratic proposals, and criticisms of Republicans for being “afraid of the NRA.”

Trump had stunned Republican lawmakers into near silence after arguing that police should “take the guns first, go through due process second” for people with mental illnesses.

He also argued that Congress should raise the age of firearms purchases to 21 from 18, in defiance of the gun lobby, and said he was going to write an order banning bump stock devices that accelerate semiautomatic rifles’ rate of fire.

Some Trump supporters were livid after the meeting.

“TRUMP THE GUN GRABBER” blared a headline on Breitbart, the right-wing website that frequently chides Trump when its readers think he moves too far to the left on hot-button issues.

Even some Fox News hosts who typically offer vehement support of Trump’s remarks, no matter how controversial, appeared concerned.

“If the President @realDonaldTrump dives on the 2nd [Amendment] he won’t have to worry [about] who runs his 2020 campaign,”Laura Ingraham said on Twitter.

But others tread more carefully. The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful organisations supporting Trump, chided some of the meeting attendees for backing “bad” policies, but stopped short of calling out Trump by name or attacking him over supporting possible Second Amendment violations.

“While today’s meeting made for great TV, the gun-control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe,” NRA public affairs director Jennifer Baker said in a statement. “Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies.”

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch was also diplomatic, telling “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that some of the ideas floated during the meeting didn’t “make for great policy for keeping our kids safe.”

“Look, there’s a way that you can respect and protect due process and protect the rights of millions of Americans while also hardening our schools and keeping kids safe,” Loesch said.

Trump playing the ‘long game’?

Apopular Reddit page for Trump supporters showed a chaotic flurry of reactions Wednesday and Thursday, ranging from confusion and anger at Trump’s remarks to insistence that they were part of a clever strategy to appease Democrats without actually bolstering gun-control measures.

Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator and Trump supporter, also lent credence to the latter idea, tweeting that she could see “the ‘long game’ being played with guns.”

Breitbart, too, speculated that Trump may have wanted to capitalise on the overwhelming anti-NRA sentiment sweeping the country, while still backing the majority of their positions.

“It is possible that Trump simply wanted to be seen as fighting the NRA, while at the same time bringing out the NRA’s arguments … in the mouths of other people,” Joel Pollack, the website’s senior editor-at-large, wrote. “That way, Trump could cast himself as a leader on the issue, without committing to legal changes that would alienate a core part of his base.”

Trump on Thursday morning tweeted a recap of the meeting, emphasising his support for strengthening the federal background-check system and eliminating so-called gun-free zones around schools that he believes attract shooters.

“Many ideas, some good & some not so good, emerged from our bipartisan meeting on school safety yesterday at the White House,” he said. “After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!”

This meeting could go the way others have. Trump held a similar meeting on immigration in January, during which he reneged on several of his proposals on the issue; congressional negotiations collapsed weeks later.

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