Much is made of a president’s first 100 days in office. Citing the blistering pace that President Franklin D. Roosevelt set at the start of his presidency in 1933, historians, political scientists and commentators often focus on this time frame as an important indicator of presidential performance. Only weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, it is clear that the new president has hit the ground running.
Of course, much of what a president is able to achieve is dependent on cooperation from the legislative branch. Thankfully, one area where both Trump and the new Congress have swiftly moved to right the wrongs of the last eight years is the protection of gun rights. It is evident that NRA members’ hard work during the 2016 election is paying off, with a handful of early victories for gun owners.
Foremost among these victories is the nomination and confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. After a contentious hearing and debate on Feb. 8, the Senate confirmed Sessions by a vote of 52-47. In nominating Sessions, Trump signaled a rapid shift for a Justice Department (DOJ) that has all-too-often been used as a political tool to harass law-abiding gun owners and the firearm industry.
During his time in the U.S. Senate, Sessions was a staunch defender of gun rights. Beyond compiling a first-rate pro-Second Amendment voting record, Sessions was a vocal advocate for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and led the fight against Barack Obama’s nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the Senate, Sessions’ fidelity to the Second Amendment was never in question. However, during his confirmation hearing, Sessions made clear that he intends to maintain his longtime respect for gun rights as attorney general, taking the opportunity to reiterate his support for gun owners and making clear that he will shift the DOJ’s focus to aggressively enforce existing law against law-breakers.
During the hearing, when asked by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., about the Second Amendment, Sessions responded, “I do believe the Second Amendment is a personal right. It’s an historic right of the American people, and the Constitution protects that and explicitly states that. It’s just as much a part of the Constitution as any of the other great rights and liberties that we value.”
In addition to a shift in enforcement priorities, an attorney general who is pro-gun rights could open opportunities for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulatory reform. Illustrating the need for reform, a recent white paper written by ATF Associate Deputy Director Ronald Turk outlined several important areas where ATF could alter current regulations in order to better respect gun owners and the firearm industry. Without an attorney general who is so committed to the rights of gun owners, such recommendations would likely languish.
Anticipating that the new president will be open to signing pro-gun legislation, the first weeks of the 115th Congress saw significant movement on important pro-gun legislation. Most notable has been Congress’s rescission of an Obama administration rule that would have forwarded the names of tens of thousands of Social Security beneficiaries to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Specifically, the Obama rule would have stripped the gun rights of those receiving Social Security benefits for a disability if they have a representative payee managing their benefits. The previous administration backed the rule even though the Social Security Administration’s determination procedure does not provide adequate due process protections, and that the agency’s determination process does not require a finding of dangerousness.
Despite the best efforts of gun control supporters and their allies in the media to misinform the public and stigmatize the mentally ill, Congress has wisely listened to the NRA, advocates for the disabled, and mental health professionals on this matter. On Feb. 2, the House of Representatives passed H.J. Res. 40, which would cancel the Obama rule, by a vote of 235-180; the Senate followed suit, passing the measure on Feb. 15, by a vote of 57-43.
Even with such notable recent successes, and a president and Congress that appear open to ushering in a new era of respect for the Second Amendment, gun rights supporters must remain committed to pressing their lawmakers in order to ensure the passage of important pro-gun legislation and the confirmation of pro-Second Amendment nominees. If the historians, academics, and commentators are right about a president’s first 100 days being indicative of a presidency, gun owners will have much to do, and look forward to, in the coming years.