A Brief History of Donald Trump’s Stance on Gun Rights

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Donald Trump holds up a replica flintlock rifle awarded to him by cadets during the Republican Society Patriot Dinner at the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 22, 2015. On Friday, he will address the NRA’s leadership forum in Louisville, Kentucky. Richard Ellis/Getty

Donald Trump believes no other American family loves the Second Amendment more than his own.

The presumptive Republican nominee, who’s scheduled to speak at a major National Rifle Association event on Friday afternoon, says he is a proud member of the organization, even lauding his two adult sons as lifetime members who are “serious NRA.”

“We love the Second Amendment, folks. Nobody loves it more than us, so just remember that,” Trump told his supporters in February, following his victory in the Nevada caucuses.

Despite these recent statements on the campaign trail, Americans might remember that Trump wasn’t always such a strong supporter of gun ownership. Before he was a presidential contender, he called out Republicans who “walk the NRA line” and “refuse even limited restrictions” on firearms laws, in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve.

“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he wrote. At the time of his book’s publication, the real estate mogul was considering a bid for the presidency but hadn’t declared his intention to run.

In April 2015, 15 years later and two months before he entered the presidential race, Trump changed his tune, telling those gathered at the NRA’s forum, “I love the NRA. I love the Second Amendment.”

At that event, he forcefully declared his political support for the organization. “I promise you one thing, if I run for president and if I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected, that I can tell you,” he said.

On Friday, Trump will speak at the NRA’s leadership forum during the organization’s four-day Annual Meetings and Exhibits, which runs through Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky. Thousands will gather at the event to hear from the New York billionaire, as well as NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ex-Trump rival Ted Cruz and other top conservative brass. In election years, it’s typical for the presumptive GOP candidate to address the crowd at the event. Trump, having cleared the field of his rivals, is now fewer than 80 delegates short in clinching the Republican nomination. 

Since declaring his presidential bid in June, Trump has called on the government to expand gun rights for law-abiding citizens while arguing many times that arming civilians could stop mass shootings—a notion also pushed by the NRA and other pro-gun activists. He’s also called gun-free zones a “catastrophe” and a “feeding frenzy for sick people.”

In January, he made headlines with the boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” No one took this literally, of course, but we now know that he owns “a gun” and has a concealed-carry permit, which he brags is quite difficult to obtain in New York, his home state. He carries a gun in New York “sometimes a lot,” he noted at the October 28 GOP debate.

“I like to be unpredictable, so people don’t know if I’m carrying,” he added.

As part of his platform, he says that “gun and magazine bans are a total failure.” At a March Republican debate, Trump told Americans that he no longer supports a ban on assault weapons. Since the 10-year federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, gunmen have used such firearms to carry out massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

After the deadly attacks in Paris last November, Trump declared that the outcome would have been “different” for the hundreds of victims had civilians in France been able to carry guns to defend themselves. This idea—empower gun owners to defend themselves—is repeated often by the candidate, and he applies it to different shootings. It echoes comments made by the NRA’s LaPierre after the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, when he called for more guns in every school across the country. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said a week after the shooting, in which 20 first-graders and six educators were killed.

We’ve heard it again and again: Trump, if elected, will immediately veto the executive actions President Barack Obama issued this year to streamline the federal background checks system to help curb gun violence. And if elected, Trump will eliminate gun-free zones in schools and on military bases during his first day in the Oval Office. As stated in his published position paper, he feels it’s “common sense” for tens of millions of Americans to have concealed carry permits.

Throughout his almost yearlong campaign, he has reiterated his plans to restrict gun-related bans, but he hasn’t exactly proposed how he will fulfill his promises. Often, he shifts the conversation about gun control to mental health, which he says is an issue politicians have ignored for too long. A day after two journalists were killed on live TV in Virginia, he rejected calls to strengthen gun laws.

“This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem,” he said. “It’s not a question of the laws, it’s really the people.”

Since the previous NRA annual meeting, in April 2015, Americans have died from gun violence on a daily basis, in communities across the country and in high-profile incidents from coast to coast, including the mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Roseburg, Oregon.

In a play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, activists with Everytown for Gun Safety are demanding that political candidates and elected officials act to “Make America Safe Again.” They will gather in Louisville at Spalding University—about five miles from the NRA’s meeting at the Kentucky Exposition Center—this weekend to represent the Americans who seek stronger gun laws to curb violence.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which is part of Everytown, is pressuring political leaders to collaborate on legislation. “They can stand with us or they will face the consequences in November,” she said.

Trump’s speech on Friday will likely echo the addresses given by the past two Republican presidential nominees—though probably with more of the aggressive and fiery rhetoric that’s become synonymous with his campaign. In 2012, Mitt Romney promised the NRA crowd that he would protect the Second Amendment while he criticized Obama, the incumbent president who later defeated him in the general election. And during his 2008 White House bid, John McCain touted his decades-long opposition to efforts to try to ban guns, ammunition and waiting periods for firearms purchases.

On Friday, Trump will speak during the leadership forum between 1 and 5 p.m. Eastern time.