Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has clinched the magic 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the party’s nomination, with the national convention right around the corner.
Even as rumblings continue in the GOP over pitching Trump against Hillary Clinton, the real-estate magnate has sent a powerful message to his party by securing the endorsement of one of the most influential American lobbies and long-time friend of the Republicans – the National Rifle Association. The organisation, which has single-handedly weakened gun regulation in the US, is one of the biggest donors of the Republican Party and has sustained the political careers of hundreds of Republican and Democratic leaders at all levels of the political pyramid – from city council to presidential elections.
The NRA has a firm grip on Congress and has used its influence to dismantle obstacles to acquiring firearms, even eroding limits on the number of firearms Americans can own. The group fought and won a legal battle to overturn a handgun ban in Washington DC and even pushed Congress to hamstring the ATF, the bureau that helps law-enforcement agencies solve gun crime. Under law, the ATF is not allowed to create a federal registry of gun transactions, which means that in the 21st century, they are forbidden from using computers to track gun sales, and have to do it by going through mountains of paperwork.
The NRA’s basic argument is that ‘over-regulation’ in some way violates the second amendment of the American constitution, which gives citizens the right to bear arms. In fact, Obama’s courage to take on the lobby is only a recent manifestation. He did not have the spine to challenge the NRA when he was seeking re-election. In 2012, during the time of the presidential campaign, a man named James Holmes gunned down 12 people at a movie theatre in Colorado.
Obama’s reaction to the incident was an eloquent yet patronising address about the value of life: “If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. And what matters at the end of the day is how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.” Obama only started speaking in favour of gun regulation that year after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newton Connecticut in December, just weeks after he secured the presidency.
The Republicans, though, have always remained loyal to the NRA. The same year as Colorado and Sandy Hook, after a shooting near the Texas A&M University left three people dead, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “This is not a matter of the weapon that’s used. It’s the matter of individuals and the choices they make. I don’t think gun laws are the answer.”
Donald Trump was once an advocate of gun regulation, yet politics has driven him to shift his stance and pander to the NRA. Back in 2000 Trump supported a ban on assault weapons and a longer waiting period to purchase firearms across the United States. Trump even took to Twitter to support Obama’s call for stronger gun regulation after the Sandy Hook massacre. However, this was four years – and a Republican nomination – ago. Contrast this to Trump’s recent speech at the NRA convention in Louisville. He hit out at Hillary Clinton. accusing her of planning to abolish the second amendment. He said his sons were long-time members of the NRA, and added that he won’t let Democrats weaken the US by tightening gun laws. In his unique style, he drove the point home by saying that if France didn’t have strong gun regulation and the victims of the Paris massacre were armed, the terrorists wouldn’t have succeeded.
Trump and the NRA have the same stance on dissent as well. Trump abuses journalists who question him; kicks out protesters from his rally sites, and even boycotted a Fox News debate. The NRA too blacklists critical journalists from covering its conventions across the US.
Trump is simply a businessman, and a good one. He has projected a target to become president and understands his consumers. Just like politicians seek the support of corporations and religious groups, Trump has framed his campaign and narrative to seek the support of the powerful gun lobby, even mimicking their mantra, ‘Keep your hands off my guns, keep your hands off my freedom’.
The NRA has remained powerful by stoking apocalyptic fears via deranged rhetoric – highlighting terror attacks, cross-border and urban crime to create a fear psychosis to arm all Americans and sustain a campaign against any form of sensible regulation. Trump has played the same game in his narrative against immigrants and the Muslim community. The political alignment has got him the lobby’s endorsement. It is the perfect political union, a calibrated right-wing match made in heaven and it will work to quell any dissent against Trump from within the Republican Party.
The writer is senior news editor at CNN-News18.