In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said that if the patrons at the Pulse nightclub had been armed, fewer may have died. “It’s too bad some of the people killed over the weekend didn’t have guns attached to their hips,” Trump said in a radio interview on June 13. “Had people been able to fire back, it would have been a much different outcome.”
There was a security guard at Pulse the night of the shooting — who exchanged fire with the gunman before retreating — but Trump’s comments implied that club goers, many of whom had likely been drinking, should also have been armed, so that they could have repelled the shooter with deadly force.
Trump’s comments recalled National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre’s statements following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when the organization’s leader said, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA — which endorsed Trump in May at its annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky — has pushed aggressively over the last decade for new laws that allow people to carry firearms in public places. As part of that effort, it has lobbied at the state level to allow concealed weapons license holders to take their firearms into businesses that serve alcohol — as long as gun owners don’t drink.
In 2013 and 2014, the group’s elected allies in five southern states — North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky — introduced bills to allow concealed carriers to take their guns into businesses that serve alcohol. All passed except the Kentucky bill. South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley championed her state’s guns in bars bill as “an effort to preserve South Carolinians’ Second Amendment rights.”
But in interviews after the Orlando massacre, top NRA officials leaders implied they think people should not carry guns into bars.
“No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s top lobbyist, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning. “That defies common sense. It also defies the law.”
LaPierre went even further. “I don’t think you should have firearms where people are drinking,” he said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that same morning.
In a tweet the day after his comments about the presence of guns at Pulse, Trump claimed he only meant there should have been more armed security guards at the club.
The NRA serves a constituency that doesn’t accept limits on where and when people can carry guns. The one caveat — that people can carry firearms in bars so long as they don’t actually drink — seems difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
One pro-gun writer, Michael Holderer argued that there’s no reason responsible gun carrying can’t mix with responsible drinking. As he argued in a 2014 post on popular blog The Truth About Guns, “The automated response of ‘Guns and Alcohol Don’t Mix!’ needs to go away. It’s antiquated teetotaler dogma.”
He continued: “Your right to defend yourself does not end just because you imbibe alcohol or frequent a place where others imbibe.”
When Democratic South Carolina legislators tried to block guns from restaurants between midnight and 5 a.m., as well as in bar areas, the NRA responded that it “strongly opposes arbitrary restrictions on where lawful [concealed weapons permit] holders can carry.” The NRA’s allies in the South Carolina Senate successfully kept any such restriction out of the bill.
Hours after his CBS appearance, LaPierre said he had misspoken. In a tweet, he explained that he meant to say it’s “OK to carry in restaurants that serve alcohol,” but that “if you’re going to carry, don’t drink.”