Latest in the long, long line of Controversies We Weren’t Really Expecting: the right to bear arms at the Republican National Convention.
A petition calling on the Republicans to allow people to carry their pistols when they assemble in July collected more than 50,000 signatures rather speedily last week. The Secret Service instantly turned thumbs down. The presidential candidates, who are normally so rapturous about all things gun-related, refused to get involved.
The author of the petition later told CBS that he was just trying to point out that Republicans’ enthusiasm for weaponry does not necessarily extend to large, potentially rancorous gatherings at which they are personally present. This gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about guns and politics.
There was a time when Americans seemed OK with a middle-of-the-road approach to guns. The public tended to regard them as things you used for hunting or household defense, and favored laws that regulated them accordingly. But no more. The National Rifle Association is beginning to run out of places to demand that people be allowed to bring their pistols, having already thrown down the gauntlet on bars, kindergartens, airports and college campuses.
The theory is that when everybody is armed 24/7, no matter what bad thing occurs, there will always be good guys on hand to shoot the evildoer. In the real world, very few people — including police officers — are skilled enough to aim accurately during a scary emergency. But if you want to win the Republican presidential nomination, it’s important to pretend otherwise. After the terrorist mass murders in France, Donald Trump argued that if only Parisian concertgoers had been packing heat, the outcome would have been much different.
“You know what? If I’m in that room and let’s say we have two or five or 40 people with guns, we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout,” he said.
Two important points here: Even in the confines of Second Amendment aficionados, you don’t normally hear the term “we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout.” Plus, note the suggestion that people would be safer with an armed Donald Trump in the building.
Trump does not appear to know anything much about firearms. Do you remember in January, when he boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? No one took him literally, possibly because no one believed that Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and actually hit anything. While he says he owns a gun, when asked if he ever uses it, he replied, “none of your business.” Mainly, he brags that his sons are crack hunters, and you can see the proof of that if you Google Donald Trump Jr. and “dead elephant tail.”
Do you think Hillary Clinton could beat Trump at a firing range? Clinton actually meets the basic political standard for marksmanship, which involves being in possession of one anecdote about having gone hunting and shot a bird. Hers goes back to her days in Arkansas, when she was with a group of friends who didn’t believe she knew how to handle a gun, then watched as she downed a duck on the first try.
Clinton has been talking a lot about gun regulation lately, because it’s one of the very few issues on which she can attack Bernie Sanders from the left. Sanders, who appears to have no personal interest in guns whatsoever, has been historically weak when it comes to voting on things like background checks. Their debate would be much more useful if it carried on into the general election. But it won’t. The sad truth is that Democrats don’t believe gun control is a winning issue. And the Republicans are so completely in bed with the NRA, the mattress is buckling.
The one candidate in this year’s race who actually has some skill as a marksman is Ted Cruz. He shot two pheasants while campaigning in Iowa, which is perfectly reasonable. He also carried out the tradition that calls for ambitious right-wing politicians to put on camouflage and face paint and go hunting with someone from “Duck Dynasty,” which is really embarrassing.
But if you want to know where Cruz stands on a reasoned approach to handling weapons, I suggest you take a look at the video in which he demonstrates how to cook bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of an assault rifle. (“Mmmm, machine gun bacon.”) The mantra is pretty straightforward. Nobody wants to think about armed convention delegates. But otherwise guns belong everywhere.
Tomorrow morning, brew the coffee and shoot the breakfast.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.