President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The problem with Trump’s unambitious vision on gun reforms

On Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump made his first public comments about the latest American mass shootings, and the president seemed eager to assure the public that the wheels of policymaking were in motion. “We’re talking to a lot of people, and a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things,” he said, adding, “A lot of things are happening.”

Trump made similar comments this morning during a brief Q&A with reporters, saying, “I’ll be convincing some people to do things that they don’t want to do, and that means people in Congress.”

Gotcha. A lot of things are happening, and the president intends to twist the arms of skeptical members of Congress to support reforms intended to help keep Americans safe. So far, so good.

But let’s get specific. Any chance the White House will support a renewed ban on assault rifles?

“Well, I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment. If you look at the – you could speak, you could do your own polling. And there’s no political appetite, probably, from the standpoint of legislature.”

Oh. Well, how about restrictions on high-capacity magazines?

“So, you have to have a political appetite within Congress. And, so far, I have not seen that. I mean, I can only do what I can do.”

Let me see if I have this straight. Trump is going to convince some lawmakers to do things that they don’t want to do and Trump is going to temper his ambitions because of the limited “appetites” among members of Congress in his own party.

Looking ahead, there are a few relevant angles to keep in mind.

First, the president seems oblivious to the mixed message, but it reinforces fears that very little is likely to happen.

Second, Trump sees “no political appetite” for major gun reforms, but there’s no political appetite for a border wall, either. Presidents have to make tough choices about what to fight for and what’s worthy of political capital, and in Trump’s case, he seems to only care about “appetite” limits on issues he considers lower priorities.

And third, the underlying point of Trump’s unambitious posture this morning was that the gun debate is really in Congress’ hands, and the president “can only do what I can do.”

What the Republican neglected to mention is that his administration has plenty of regulatory power – which Trump has been using to expand, not limit, public access to guns.