As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump accepted the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and released a Facebook video headlined by the remark, “I won’t let them take away our guns!!”
Now, as president, he wants to be seen as a problem-solver on gun policy.
At a media availability on Aug. 4 following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, a reporter asked Trump, “The gun problem — what are you going to do about it? How are you going to address it?”
Trump responded, “We’re talking to a lot of people, and a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things. And we have done much more than most administrations. And it’s ... really not talked about very much, but we’ve done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.”
We wondered whether it’s accurate that Trump and his administration have “done much more than most administrations” to curb gun violence.
Limits on gun rights
Trump has clearly acted to limit gun rights in two cases.
- Using regulatory powers to bypass Congress, Trump in 2018 acted to ban bump stocks, an accessory that uses recoil to effectively turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic one. This technique was used by the shooter who killed 58 people and injured almost 900 attending a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.
- Trump signed a large federal spending bill that included language to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The legislation had received bipartisan support in Congress.
In addition, under Trump, the federal government has increased prosecutions of firearms offenses.
The Trump campaign said he deserves credit for actions beyond the scope of guns specifically. They cited his signing of the STOP School Violence Act, which authorizes more than $1 billion in grant funding through 2028 to support violence-prevention programs in schools. The campaign also pointed to Trump’s establishment of the Federal Commission on School Safety. (The commission released a final report in December 2018.)
Expansions of gun rights
Still, the Trump administration’s gun-specific efforts have tended to focus on expanding gun rights or opposing tighter limits on them. Some examples:
- He signed legislation to overturn a rule enacted under President Barack Obama that made it harder for some mentally ill people to obtain guns. (Advocates for disabled Americans and civil-liberties groups joined with gun advocates in supporting Trump’s action.)
- Trump in 2019 threatened to veto bills passed by the House to require federal background checks for all gun sales. (A veto has not been necessary since the measures remain stalled in the Senate.)
- Trump’s Interior Department reversed a ban on hunting with lead ammunition in national parks and other federal lands.
Trump’s Interior Department formally proposed a rule to expand hunting on federal
- Trump’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives delayed an Obama-era rule to make gun-safety devices more readily available where firearms are sold.
- Trump’s Justice Department formally sided with plaintiffs seeking to overturn New York City restrictions on transporting handguns at the Supreme Court.
So, for Trump to focus solely on his efforts to limit gun rights ignores the more numerous examples in which he has sought to expand gun rights or prevent restrictions of gun rights.
“The Trump administration has been mostly missing in action on enhanced gun control,” said Harold (Jay) Corzine, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida.
The universe of comparable presidents is actually pretty small. In the past 50 years, only two presidents — Bill Clinton and Obama, both Democrats — made tightening gun policies a significant item on their policy agendas.
In 1993, Clinton signed the Brady Bill, which heightened requirements for background checks, and the following year, he signed the assault weapons ban, which sunsetted after 10 years in 2004.
Obama, for his part, pursued gun control policies, especially after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. But facing a Republican-controlled Congress opposed to gun control, such efforts went nowhere.
Instead, between 2013 and 2016, Obama undertook executive actions on mental health treatment, strengthened background checks, restarting federal gun research that had been frozen for years, funding additional federal agents, tracing guns found during investigations to determine trafficking patterns, and guiding U.S. attorneys to go after felons looking to buy guns or people lying in order to pass background checks.
“Trump has not had a pro-control record, although most previous presidents have not done much more” than he has, said Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck.
However, experts caution against a direct comparison between Obama’s record and Trump’s.
“During Obama’s administration, there were at least four bills to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ two attempts to renew the assault weapons ban, two attempts to ban high-capacity magazines, two to ban ‘build them yourself’ assault rifle kits, and one to ban imported assault weapons,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego. “Every single one of these 11 bills died on the floor of either the House or Senate, so it was never an option for Obama to sign them into law.”
Given that Republicans — the more consistently pro-gun party — have controlled either the presidency or at least one chamber of Congress for most of the past quarter-century, “it’s not really surprising that more restrictions have not been passed at the federal level,” Schildkraut said.
Asked what his administration would be doing about “the gun problem,” Trump said, “We have done much more than most administrations. … We’ve done, actually, a lot.”
Trump has banned bump stocks, supported a bipartisan effort to improve the background-check database, and prioritized gun-related prosecutions. This number does compare favorably to what some other recent presidents have accomplished.
At the same time, Trump’s comment ignores that his administration has pursued multiple efforts to expand gun laws and regulations or to block efforts to tighten them.
We rate the statement Half True.