On October 1, a man shot and killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas – the largest mass murder in modern American history.
On October 3, President Donald Trump was asked about the impact of the shooting on current gun laws – and possible future gun control measures. He said that his administration and Congress would “be talking about gun laws as time goes by.” Trump was also asked whether the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism. He declined to answer.
On October 4, in Las Vegas, Trump was again asked about possible legislative action on guns. “We’re not going to talk about that today,” he responded. “We won’t talk about that.”
Fast forward 30 days.
On October 31, an Uzbek man drives a rental truck in a bike lane in New York City. He kills eight people and injures a dozen more.
Within hours, Trump tweeted this: “In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely. NOT IN THE U.S.A.!” He followed up with a second tweet last night: “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” And a third: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
On November 1 (aka today), Trump tweets again: “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” He adds in a subsequent tweet: “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter). @foxandfriends”
Prior to a meeting with his Cabinet Wednesday around noon – about 18 hours after the attack – Trump proposes action be taken on the diversity lottery program – the means by which the alleged attacker made it into the US.
“I am, today, starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program,” Trump said. “I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program, diversity lottery, diversity lottery. Sounds nice, it is not nice, it is not good. It hasn’t been good and we have been against it.”
How about the words Trump uses to describe the men who perpetrated these attacks?
About the Las Vegas shooter, Trump said this: “The wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain. Extremely badly in his brain. And it’s a very sad event.”
Of the man alleged to have committed the attack in NYC? “This animal who did the attacking.”
Notice any difference between the two responses? If you don’t, you may want to confirm that your spine is connected to your brain stem and/or your eyes are working properly.
The disparity in Trump’s responses is striking – and telling.
Trump cares deeply about the threat posed by ISIS and international terrorism more broadly. He ran for president explicitly on that message. He promised he would be much smarter and much tougher in the fight against terrorism than President Barack Obama. That fire needed to be met with fire.
He echoed that sentiment on Wednesday. “We need quick justice and we need strong justice,” Trump said.
He is far less animated by gun control – or the debate over the right regulations on guns that happens (and then inevitably disappears) in the wake of these ever-more-frequent mass shootings.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, there appeared to be real momentum behind a ban on bump stocks – the add-on the shooter used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into something like a fully automatic one.
“We’ll be looking into that in the next short period of time,” Trump promised on October 5.
But, a legislative-driven ban on bump stocks remains largely stalled in Congress as Republican leaders insist that the better course of action is for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to handle the regulation change.
Trump hasn’t said much of anything on bump stocks since October 5.
The broader point here: Trump is more than willing to seize on tragic events when they confirm his previous political and policy beliefs. He will effectively ignore them when they don’t.
It’s that simple.