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Now, as president, he wants to be seen as a problem-solver on gun policy.
At a media availability on Aug. 4 following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, a reporter asked President Donald Trump, "The gun problem – what are you going to do about it? How are you going to address it?"
Trump responded, "We’re talking to a lot of people, and a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things. And we have done much more than most administrations. And it’s ... really not talked about very much, but we’ve done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done."
We wondered whether it’s accurate that Trump and his administration have "done much more than most administrations" to curb gun violence.
We found that Trump has made two concrete moves that tightened gun policy and has taken additional actions on other aspects of curbing mass shootings. This is more than some of his predecessors have done. However, this tells only part of the story, because Trump and his administration have simultaneously advanced more policies that would expand gun rights or prevent efforts to limit gun rights.
Trump has clearly acted to limit gun rights in two cases.
• Using regulatory powers to bypass Congress, Trump in 2018 acted to ban bump stocks, an accessory that uses recoil to effectively turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic one. This technique was used by the shooter who killed 58 people and injured almost 900 attending a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.
• Trump signed a large federal spending bill that included language to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The legislation had received bipartisan support in Congress.
In addition, under Trump, the federal government has increased prosecutions of firearms offenses. (See our fact-check.)
The Trump campaign said he deserves credit for actions beyond the scope of guns specifically. They cited his signing of the STOP School Violence Act, which authorizes more than $1 billion in grant funding through 2028 to support violence-prevention programs in schools. The campaign also pointed to Trump’s establishment of the Federal Commission on School Safety. (The commission released a final report in December 2018.)
Still, the Trump administration’s gun-specific efforts have tended to focus on expanding gun rights or opposing tighter limits on them. Some examples:
• He signed legislation to overturn a rule enacted under President Barack Obama that made it harder for some mentally ill people to obtain guns. (Advocates for disabled Americans and civil-liberties groups joined with gun advocates in supporting Trump’s action.)
• Trump’s Interior Department reversed a ban on hunting with lead ammunition in national parks and other federal lands.
• Trump’s Interior Department formally proposed a rule to expand hunting on federal lands.
• Trump’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives delayed an Obama-era rule to make gun-safety devices more readily available where firearms are sold.
• Trump’s Justice Department formally sided with plaintiffs seeking to overturn New York City restrictions on transporting handguns at the Supreme Court.
So, for Trump to focus solely on his efforts to limit gun rights ignores the more numerous examples in which he has sought to expand gun rights or prevent restrictions of gun rights.
"The Trump administration has been mostly missing in action on enhanced gun control," said Harold (Jay) Corzine, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida.
The universe of comparable presidents is actually pretty small. In the past 50 years, only two presidents — Bill Clinton and Obama, both Democrats — made tightening gun policies a significant item on their policy agendas.
Obama, for his part, pursued gun control policies, especially after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. But facing a Republican-controlled Congress opposed to gun control, such efforts went nowhere.
Instead, between 2013 and 2016, Obama undertook executive actions on mental health treatment, strengthened background checks, restarting federal gun research that had been frozen for years, funding additional federal agents, tracing guns found during investigations to determine trafficking patterns, and guiding U.S. attorneys to go after felons looking to buy guns or people lying in order to pass background checks.
"Trump has not had a pro-control record, although most previous presidents have not done much more" than he has, said Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck.
However, experts caution against a direct comparison between Obama’s record and Trump’s.
"During Obama's administration, there were at least four bills to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ two attempts to renew the assault weapons ban, two attempts to ban high-capacity magazines, two to ban ‘build them yourself’ assault rifle kits, and one to ban imported assault weapons," said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego. "Every single one of these 11 bills died on the floor of either the House or Senate, so it was never an option for Obama to sign them into law."
Given that Republicans — the more consistently pro-gun party — have controlled either the presidency or at least one chamber of Congress for most of the past quarter-century, "it’s not really surprising that more restrictions have not been passed at the federal level," Schildkraut said.
Asked what his administration would be doing about "the gun problem," Trump said, "We have done much more than most administrations. … We’ve done, actually, a lot."
Trump has banned bump stocks, supported a bipartisan effort to improve the background-check database, and prioritized gun-related prosecutions. This number does compare favorably to what some other recent presidents have accomplished.
At the same time, Trump’s comment ignores that his administration has pursued multiple efforts to expand gun laws and regulations or to block efforts to tighten them.
We rate the statement Half True.
White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Air Force One Departure," Aug. 4, 2019
Congress.gov, "H.R.1625 - Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018"
Congress.gov, "H.R.1112 - Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019"
Congress.gov, "H.R.8 - Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019"
U.S. Interior Department, "Secretary Bernhardt Proposes Increasing Public Access to Hunting and Fishing on 1.4 Million Acres Nationwide," June 5, 2019
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, proposed rule, May 26, 2016
U.S. Justice Department, amicus brief in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. City of New York, accessed Aug. 7, 2019
Politico, "Trump quietly used regulations to expand gun access," Aug. 7, 2019
Associated Press, "Trump Distorting His Record on Gun Control," Aug. 6, 2019
The Hill, "White House threatens to veto background check bills," Feb. 25, 2019
Reuters, "New Interior head lifts lead ammunition ban in nod to hunters," March 2, 2017
Time magazine, "Here’s a Timeline of the Major Gun Control Laws in America," April 30, 2019
PolitiFact, "Obama used executive powers to augment existing laws," December 8, 2016
PolitiFact, "Kirsten Gillibrand wrong about Donald Trump and bump stocks," June 6, 2019
PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders repeats false claim about gun sales without background checks," Feb. 20, 2018
PolitiFact, "After mass shootings, Donald Trump says prosecutions for firearm offenses hit record in 2018," Aug. 5, 2019
Email interview with Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, Aug. 7, 2019
Email interview with Harold (Jay) Corzine, sociologist at the University of Central Florida, Aug. 7, 2019
Email interview with Gary Kleck, Florida State University criminologist, Aug. 7, 2019
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