Donald Trump’s statement to the nation about Las Vegas was platitudinous. Speeches by leaders in the wake of such horrors tend to be. But it wasn’t bad. He did the necessary: he called the slaughter ‘pure evil’, he thanked the Las Vegas police and protection services for their professionalism, he offered comfort and condolences to the families of the victims, and he called for America to unite in grief. ‘In moments of tragedy and horror America comes together as one, and it always has,’ he said. ‘It is our love that defines us today, and always will, forever.’ Schmaltzy stuff, but exactly what America wanted to hear. His speech was explicitly Christian, too, in a way that President Obama’s responses to mass shootings tended to avoid. He invoked Scripture to say that
‘God lives in the hearts of those who grieve. Though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens it is our love that defines us today. I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. We can take solace that even in the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be lightened by a single ray of hope.
‘We pray for the day when evil is banished and when the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear. May God bless the souls of the lives that are lost. May God give us the grace to heal, and may God provide the grieving families with the strength to carry on.’
Trump said that he will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday. He did not address how he might respond to the inevitable debate that will now consume America over the legality of assault weapons. Again, here he differs from Obama, who for instance used his speech in the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon to make an appeal for what he called ‘common-sense gun legislation’. The irony, however, is that whereas Obama consistently fell short in his attempts to ban what he called ‘weapons of war’ and establish tighter legal controls of who can buy guns, Donald Trump might now succeed. The 45th president has so far flip-flopped on the banning of assault weapons – as he has on other culture-war issues such as abortion and gay marriage. In 2000, he said, ‘I support the ban on assault weapons.’ In 2016, he said, ‘I do not support the ban on assault weapons.’ Since emerging as a serious presidential candidate, he has been eager to woo the NRA and put himself firmly on the side of gun enthusiasts. He’s been solidly endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). But whereas Americans on the right tended to think that Obama was determined to take their weapons away from them, and would therefore interpret all his attempts at reform as a repudiation of Second Amendment rights, Trump is trusted by gun enthusiasts – and therefore has more wiggle room. Whether he takes it remains to be seen. His speech offered no clues.