Who’s afraid of the National Rifle Association? Apparently, not President Donald Trump.
At Wednesday’s White House gathering on guns, the president mocked Republican lawmakers for fearing NRA executive Wayne LaPierre and his team of D.C. lobbyists.
“Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified,” the president told the bipartisan group of gobsmacked guests. “They have great power over you people, they have less power over me.”
If LaPierre’s grip on Trump is loosening, perhaps it is because every poll published since the massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school shows that Americans want tougher gun-safety laws. Or maybe it is because the president spent the past week watching one Fortune 500 company after another sever ties with the NRA. For a businessman who holds corporate chief executives in far higher regard than he does political players such as LaPierre, the business world’s reaction to Parkland had to be eye-opening.
Walmart, the country’s largest private-sector employer, announced on Wednesday that it would immediately raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21. The giant retailer emphasized that it already barred the sale of assault-style weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and “similar accessories.”
Walmart’s statement followed the announcement of Dick’s Sporting Goods that it, too, was ending the sale of assault-style weapons and raising its gun-purchase age to 21. The CEO of America’s largest sporting-goods chain, Edward Stack, told NBC News, “We don’t want to be a part of the story any longer.”
Other corporate leaders reached that same conclusion earlier in the week. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, MetLife, Avis, National Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Lockton Affinity, First National Bank of Omaha and Republic Bank were some of the companies that cut ties with LaPierre’s lobbying organization after Parkland. FedEx, criticized for providing a standard discount to NRA members, took the extraordinary step of releasing a policy statement calling for a ban on assault-style weapons.
“FedEx Corporation’s positions on the issue of gun policy and safety differ from those of the National Rifle Association,” it said. “FedEx opposes assault rifles being in the hands of civilians . . . [and] views assault rifles and large capacity magazines as inherent potential dangers to schools, workplaces, and communities.”
The company then called for “urgent action” on the local, state and national level to prevent future tragedies.
If Trump’s instinct is to fear the NRA less and follow the guidance of legendary business leaders such as FedEx’s Fred Smith more, data suggest it would be a wise political move. Even before the most recent mass shooting, the influence of LaPierre’s organization on elections was fading. In the Virginia governor’s race, Democratic candidate Ralph Northam cheerfully embraced his “F” rating from the NRA while campaigning for universal background checks. Despite the NRA pouring more than $1 million into ads against him, Northam easily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie. He is the second-straight candidate opposed by the NRA to be elected governor in the gun group’s home state.
Tales of the gun lobby’s outsize influence also took a pounding in December’s Senate race in Alabama. There, the NRA spent nearly $55,000 on a mailer claiming that Democrat Doug Jones “can’t be trusted to support your Second Amendment rights” and “will be another vote for the Bloomberg-Schumer-Pelosi gun control agenda!”
As did their counterparts in Virginia, Alabama residents ignored LaPierre’s fear tactics and voted again for the supposed gun-grabber. But that charge has proven to be just as baseless as the fear that Republican legislators in Congress hold for gun lobbyists — whose radical views are out of step even with Republican voters and many members of the NRA itself.
Maybe Trump is finally on to something. Maybe he will decide that this is the time for real progress on common-sense gun-safety legislation. He could do it because it’s the right thing to do. Or he could do it because it’s the smart thing to do. But if he chooses instead to let his party continue to languish in fear, Republicans will just be giving Americans one more reason to vote them out of power — and relegate Trumpism to the ash heap of history.