Yesterday, President Trump cause a big stir by appearing open to -- if not outright endorsing -- a number of dramatic gun control measures during a bipartisan White House meeting, drawing a rebuke from the NRA. Nobody was quite sure how to react. Democrats, accustomed to knee-jerk opposition, seemed astonished and even giddy (this Dianne Feinstein gif is one for the ages). Stunned Republicans mumbled about 'concerns,' though precious few have outright rebuffed Trump's comments in the stark terms one would expect from a pro-gun rights party. Trump even ridiculed GOP representatives at the gathering as being 'petrified' of the NRA, adopting a left-wing attack line; it seems as though quite a few lawmakers are more fearful of crossing him than the Second Amendment advocacy group, even as he openly discusses vastly curtailing gun rights and civil liberties. This is undoubtedly true:
Double standard? Many Republicans would have called for Obama’s impeachment if he endorsed confiscating guns without due process. But only one Republican member of Congress appears to have sent out a press release objecting when Trump proposed it. https://t.co/ecZV644tqo— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) March 1, 2018
The lone exception was Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse:
Inbox: Sasse Statement on President’s Due Process Comments— Alex Rogers (@arogDC) February 28, 2018
“Strong leaders don't automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them...” pic.twitter.com/PCpaxsPP6P
"Due process" is a selectively-invoked principle by this president. Other pro-gun commentators joined the chorus, warning Trump that one of the few ways he could divorce himself from a massive portion of his base is to go soft on the Second Amendment. Here's the typically-Trumpy Laura Ingraham firing off a rhetorical warning shot:
If the President @realDonaldTrump dives on the 2nd Am he won’t have to worry abt who runs his 2020 campaign.— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 1, 2018
That was Wednesday. By Thursday morning, Trump was hedging:
Many ideas, some good & some not so good, emerged from our bipartisan meeting on school safety yesterday at the White House. Background Checks a big part of conversation. Gun free zones are proven targets of killers. After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2018
Heaven only knows where this is all headed, but it could be a rerun of the Great White House Listening Session on DACA, wherein Trump seemed to agree with Democrats on some issues, then promised to sign basically any DREAM Act deal that made it to his desk. That position didn't last very long. Another possibility is that Trump was (very clumsily) endorsing a policy that is worthy of serious discussion. National Review writer David French -- a strong Second Amendment supporter who recently wrote an excellent piece deconstructing the folly of Democrats' proposed "assault weapons" ban -- thinks he knows what the president meant with his breathtaking 'confiscate guns now, ask due process questions later' suggestion:
You can seize guns from dangerous people and STILL provide due process. Trump's obviously thinking about gun violence restraining orders. This is the concept, and it's a good one: https://t.co/JQk8vLphU2 https://t.co/CHXglgVr5j— David French (@DavidAFrench) February 28, 2018
I don't believe it's at all "obvious" what Trump was thinking about here, but the idea French outlines is an interesting one:
It’s called a gun-violence restraining order, or GVRO. While there are various versions of these laws working their way through the states (California passed a GVRO statute in 2014, and it went into effect in 2016), broadly speaking they permit a spouse, parent, sibling, or person living with a troubled individual to petition a court for an order enabling law enforcement to temporarily take that individual’s guns right away. A well-crafted GVRO should contain the following elements (“petitioners” are those who seek the order, “the respondent” is its subject):
- It should limit those who have standing to seek the order to a narrowly defined class of people (close relatives, those living with the respondent);
- It should require petitioners to come forward with clear, convincing, admissible evidence that the respondent is a significant danger to himself or others;
- It should grant the respondent an opportunity to contest the claims against him;
- In the event of an emergency, ex parte order (an order granted before the respondent can contest the claims), a full hearing should be scheduled quickly — preferably within 72 hours; and
- The order should lapse after a defined period of time unless petitioners can come forward with clear and convincing evidence that it should remain in place.
The concept of the GVRO is simple, not substantially different from the restraining orders that are common in family law, and far easier to explain to the public than our nation’s mental-health adjudications. Moreover, the requirement that the order come from people close to the respondent and that they come forward with real evidence (e.g. sworn statements, screenshots of social-media posts, copies of journal entries) minimizes the chance of bad-faith claims.
French acknowledges that this idea has mostly been embraced by liberals, but urges conservatives to weigh it on the merits. This proposal to keep guns out of the hands of verifiably troubled individuals, with a due process system in place to adjudicate potential unjust denials of rights, is a reasonable idea that at least merits real debate. Whether Trump has ever remotely heard of or thought through GVRO's, I have no idea. But he may have hit on a decent proposal, even if accidentally. (UPDATE: Marco Rubio is introducing legislation along these lines).
Parting thought: Are Democrats cynically walking away from legislation that (a) represents a common-sense measure and (b) has a real chance of passing because they now believe they can hold out for more? Republicans shouldn't insist on concealed carry reciprocity in order to support NICS fixes on the existing background checks regime that has failed terribly in a number of recent instances. And Democrats shouldn't hold this idea 'hostage' (their term) as leverage to push further. Everyone seems to agree that something should be done. The Cornyn/Murphy bill is a rare case of broad consensus. Leave it to Washington to screw even that up.