It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in last week’s presidential election when it comes to the Second Amendment. The Constitutional right to keep and bear arms dodged a bullet when Hillary was defeated. Clinton’s views on gun rights are well known; she supports an “Assault Weapons” ban, opposes the Heller v D.C. decision, wants to repeal the immunity firearms manufacturers have when a criminal misuses their produts, wants to set up a federal registry of all handguns, and supports closing loopholes that don’t exist. If Hillary had won, the Supreme Court would have been stacked against gun rights for a generation. The push to ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty would have picked up steam, and she certainly would have used all executive power available to limit Americans’ right to defend themselves.
History has shown that just because a Republican president is in office doesn’t mean our Second Amendment rights will be protected. Reagan did, after all, sign a ban on civilians buying new automatic weapons, and Bush Sr. banned foreign-made “assault rifles.” Mr. Trump, himself, has made some comments which might irk firearms owners. That said, he could go down in history as the most pro-gun president of all time.
On his first day in office President Trump could use his executive authority to repeal the ban on carrying a firearm on military installations and recruitment centers. The U.S. Department of Defense issued a directive in February 1992 affecting the carrying of firearms on bases by military personnel. That directive was eventually implemented in March 1993, two months after President Bill Clinton assumed office, turning military bases into gun free zones. This nonsensical policy allowed Nidal Hasan to murder 13 and injure 32 others at Fort Hood in 2009 and Aaron Alexis to kill 12 at the Washington Navy Yard shooting in 2013. If active duty members of the military can’t be trusted with loaded weapons, then who can? Mr. Trump’s campaign website lists the repeal of this restriction as one of his top priorities and he could keep his campaign promise with the simple stroke of a pen.
For years, President Obama has blocked by way of executive order the re-importation of thousands of historically significant firearms that the United States left behind after the Korean War. While not a campaign pledge, it is certain that President Trump would sign into law the Collectible Firearms Protection Act which would allow law-abiding US citizens to return home wildly popular and historic M1 Garand rifles and M1 carbines as well as M1911 pistols and other historic firearms that have been used by the US military overseas.
Although it is doubtful that any meaningful reforms or repeals of the National Firearms Act will be passed, even by a Republican controlled Congress, the removal of suppressors from NFA restrictions is one change that will likely make it to President Trump’s desk to sign into law. Restricting a hearing safety device was one of the dumbest things ever done under the Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (and that’s saying a lot). The Hearing Protection Act will be re-submitted next congressional session and has wide support within the Republican Party. This is common sense gun legislation that would allow gun owners to better protect their hearing and we can surely expect President Trump to sign it into law.
Perhaps the most significant reform Donald Trump has proposed to firearms legislation and the one most likely to impact ordinary Americans is full nationwide reciprocity of concealed carry permits. Mr. Trump has said many times that self-defense is a right which should not end either at your doorstep nor when you cross state lines. Unlike driving, which is a privilege, Americans do not enjoy the automatic right to carry concealed outside their home state. Currently a patchwork of agreements between individual states extend this right, but it is not universal and changes constantly. There have been many cases of otherwise lawful gun owners being arrested and incarcerated for the “crime” of accidentally carrying their firearm into a state which restricts their rights. President-elect Trump made it a campaign promise to sign into law national right to carry legislation. This act would essentially abolish “good cause” restrictions and other burdensome requirements placed by many “may issue” states and localities by allowing US citizens to carry with a permit issued by any US state as well as protect the rights of travelling citizens from Constitutional Carry states which do not require any permit to exercise Second Amendment rights.
These four measures on their own would make President Trump the most pro-gun president in recent memory. Firearms ownership was under constant attack by the Obama administration, either through demagoguery, threats of punitive gun control measures or executive actions. The highlight of the Bush Jr. years was the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which, although incredibly important in protecting firearms manufacturers, changed almost nothing for gun owners, the Clinton years gave us the now expired Assault Weapons Ban. Even going back to the elder Bush’s administration we don’t see any major expansion of gun rights at the federal level. The last landmark piece of gun related legislation to (mostly) expand Second Amendment rights was the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act signed into law by President Reagan in 1986. While this law had many positive aspects, such as the “safe passage” provision and a federal ban on firearms registries a last minute amendment now infamously known as the Hughes Amendment effectively banned the sale of new automatic weapons to law abiding civilians.
While impressive in their own right and definitely a positive shift in gun politics, especially nationwide reciprocity of concealed carry permits, President Trump could go down in history as the most pro-gun president due to the importance of the Supreme Court in defining the scope of the Second Amendment. Ever since the high court’s ruling in Heller v DC that the Second Amendment applies to individuals irrespective of service in a militia and its subsequent incorporation onto the States in McDonald v. Chicago the Court has left open the question of how far Second Amendment rights go. The Court has yet to rule on whether the right to bear arms extends outside the home, whether bans on “assault rifles” and “high capacity” magazines are lawful, and whether the States may require justifications for the issuance of concealed carry permits.
Donald Trump has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will “uphold the Second Amendment.” If his campaign rhetoric is to be believed then this means not just uphold the status quo, but radically broaden the meaning of the Second Amendment as it applies to individuals. This fundamental shift in exactly how far the Second Amendment goes is not breathing in new meaning to the Constitution, but rather clarifying what the Foundering Fathers meant when they said “shall not be infringed.” President Trump has the opportunity to appoint traditional textualist jurists who will restore the original meaning to the Second Amendment and enshrine Trump as the most pro-gun president in American history.