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If Trump wants to run toward danger, he should take on the NRA

As expected, late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert were out in full force Monday mocking President Donald Trump after he told the nation’s governors who were meeting at the White House that he would have rushed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to save students during the shooting had he been there “even if I didn’t have a weapon.” Admittedly, it was a pretty bold claim by someone who took five draft deferments during the Vietnam War — would the bone spurs have slowed down his rush toward danger? But false bravado isn’t some new discovery in the Trump spectrum of personality disorder. The American electorate has surely figured out by now that’s how he rolls.

Instead of making fun of the president’s superhero fantasy, Americans should instead be urging him to demonstrate this heretofore hidden reserve of courage. As it happens, President Trump has an opportunity to do just that, or at least the Washington equivalent, by engaging in what he asked the governors Monday to join him in doing: challenging the National Rifle Association on gun safety legislation. That doesn’t mean arming teachers; the NRA loves that. That doesn’t mean regulating bump stocks; the NRA can live with that one, too. No, it means doing something more serious about keeping the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of individuals who should not have access to them. And if he intends to do something substantive along those lines, Mr. Trump is in for a fight.

President Trump has already staked out the political ground. He told the governors, “You guys — half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There’s nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they’re not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That’s OK.” The question is whether he will back up that kind of rhetoric, and given that the White House has yet produce actual legislation on the subject, that’s a big if. Mr. Trump has overwhelming support from NRA members and leadership. Just how far is he willing to stray from that particular comfort zone?

One of the first tests is his proposal to raise the age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, which last week Mr. Trump pledged to support. The idea has already gotten substantial pushback from the NRA and, curiously, the president didn’t mention it during his meeting with the National Governors Association. That’s likely a sign that Mr. Trump is reconsidering the move, which his spokeswoman now describes as “on the table” and part of the president’s “listening” phase. If Mr. Trump does back down? Now, that would be the legislative equivalent of a sheriff’s deputy standing on the sidewalk in Parkland, Fla., too frightened or confused by the gunfire to rescue the children inside.

Let’s face it. Much of what the president has been talking about in response to the Florida shooting is pretty thin gruel — and anyone who thinks there’s going to be a transformative shift on Second Amendment politics in this country is living in a fantasy world. Yet for a Republican president, particularly one as devoted to the NRA as Mr. Trump, to denounce that organization’s brand of paranoid extremism and inch the country in a more commonsense direction would be revolutionary. Much like Richard Nixon’s diplomatic entree to China, it’s something that Barack Obama could not have done but Mr. Trump could.

Long shot? Sure. It would be far more in character for President Trump to wiggle and wobble out of any serious gun policy change, as he’s done with the Dreamers and DACA, promising to show courage weeks ago and then attaching all kinds of strings to the deal and blaming the resulting standoff entirely on the minority party. All the talk about arming teachers or the danger of “gun-free zones,” for example, is classic Trump — find a hot button subject and keep pressing it until the public is completely distracted by the sideshow. Did he really just compare a teacher’s potential aptitude for gunning down an armed attacker with putting skills? Why, yes, he did.

Nobody said President Trump was an expert on guns or education, he just has to demonstrate the guts to do what he claims he’s ready to do — challenge the iron-grip of the NRA — to earn his personal red badge of courage.

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