“There’s an assault on the Second Amendment. You know Obama’s going to do an executive order and really knock the hell out of it. … I will veto — I will unsign that so fast.”
– Donald Trump, Saturday in Biloxi, Miss.
Big news was made in Washington on Monday — and you surely must have been stunned to discover it the next day, on Page A14 of your New York Times.
There it was, prominently displayed in the 20th paragraph of that story you’d begun reading on Page 1. Finally, you’d found an authoritative conservative expert who could put into vital perspective the big news that just became all the rage whenever Republican presidential candidates were near a live microphone:
Republicans had spent all weekend blasting President Obama’s plan to expand gun purchase background checks and other enforcement measures — by issuing executive orders, since he couldn’t get the Republican Congress to enact his proposals.
“He has waged war on the Constitution. … He is obsessed with gun control … to further erode the Second Amendment.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio, Sunday in Raymond, N.H.
Now, you’d found gun experts whose assessment you trusted — the National Rifle Association, Obama’s fiercest opponent on gun policy. As the Times reported:
“A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said on Monday that the organization’s lawyers would look at the president’s proposals more closely to determine if there was anything they might go to court to challenge. But she said that at first glance the plan seemed surprisingly thin.
“'This is it, really?' asked Jennifer Baker, an official with the N.R.A.’s Washington lobbying arm. ‘This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything.’”
Not doing anything? That may have insulted team Obama, but it didn’t deter the Grand Old Party pack from its apoplectic assault.
“This president is a petulant child … now this president wants to act as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator. … But this is going to be another illegal executive action which I’m sure will be rejected by the courts.”
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, on Fox News Sunday
On Tuesday, Obama announced that he will be doing a number of things Republicans long urged the federal government to do — increase enforcement personnel to improve background checks and also terrorist watch lists that are dangerously outdated and inadequate.
Among those who advocated that action are a former federal prosecutor, Christie, who, after denouncing Obama, said on that same Fox News Sunday show: “As president, I would make sure that terror watch list was actually accurate. But I think most Americans believe if you’re on the terror watch list, you shouldn’t be able to buy guns.”
But the partisan assaults continued.
“This has been the most anti-gun administration in the history of our country. This has been an administration that has targeted law-abiding citizens in particular, rather than targeting criminals, rather than targeting terrorists.”
— Sen. Ted Cruz, speaking to reporters in Iowa Tuesday.
“His first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens, and it’s wrong. And to use executive powers he doesn’t have.”
— Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on Fox News Sunday
Jeb’s brother could have issued the gun reforms his successor just announced. Soon enough, that pandering pack will be winnowed down and the Grand Old Party will get down to the serious business of contemplating its destiny. For a while, it seemed the GOP had one new statesmanlike figure who might guide it responsibly — new House Speaker Paul Ryan, who just convinced the party’s far right rebels not to try to shut down the government. But this week, Ryan stunned those who believed he might be the GOP’s much-needed statesmanlike leader — by twice deliberately mischaracterizing Obama’s minimalist responses to our nation’s recent wave of gun violence. Just to show the far right he’s really their kind of guy.
Even after Ryan knew Obama’s proposals were, as the NRA put it, “thin” and seemingly no big deal, the new speaker rushed to all-too-willingly misspeak:
“From day one, the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding. … His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty. No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.”
The speaker’s mentor, the late Rep. Jack Kemp, would understand my disappointment. I thought Paul Ryan was better than that.
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.