Bannon shattering any hope of gun control

The broken windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Photo: MJT / AdMedia

In the days before Stephen Paddock reignited America's gun control debate by raining down rapid fire carnage on the Las Vegas strip, a familiar voice was again calling the shots inside Donald Trump's head.

Step forward The Great Manipulator, Steve 'The Loose Cannon' Bannon (both nicknames he revels in, incidentally, along with Darth Bannon). Almost daily, Bannon has been receiving secret calls from the president's personal phone seeking his advice. It is a revived political bromance that represents a major snub for the president's Chief of Staff General John Kelly and Trump's own daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner; the key trio who were instrumental in Bannon getting the bullet from his job as the president's strategy chief a few weeks ago. But it is to Bannon – now restored to his old role heading up the powerful alt-right Breitbart News operation – that Trump has turned in his rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Republican party establishment and his falling poll ratings. It is Bannon's influence that triggered Trump's ongoing war against the NFL stars' protest movement – an issue that barely figured on the president's hyperactive Twitter feed until The Great Manipulator recommended it would play well with his core support base… along with classic Bannon-esque 'sons of bitches, disrespecting our flag and country' rhetoric. It was also Bannon's restored influence that led to the omission of any reference to gun control when POTUS belatedly delivered his public response to America's worst-ever mass gun massacre. No surprise, given that The Great Manipulator is not only the darling of America's potent pro-gun lobby, but proved a key 'fixer' in securing the NRA's powerful support and as much as $30m of funding during last year's presidential election campaign (the NRA's biggest-ever US election spend). His influence also meant that Trump became the first US president since Ronald Reagan to attend an NRA conference and publicly promise them they 'have a true friend and champion in the White House'. And there can be no doubt that the NRA and other pro-gun lobbies will be counting on Bannon using his Breitbart News big gun – and his revived influence – to neutralise those Congressional voices calling for tougher gun control. More than that, they'll be looking for Trump to carry through his pledge to back legislation that would weaken further America's existing gun laws, including lifting a ban on citizens being able to buy silencers and armour-piercing ammunition. Bannon himself is known to believe that the 'Secret Democrats' in the White House are set to try and reverse, or at least soften, Trump's personal support for the pro-gun lobby. His prime suspects? His arch-enemies, Ivanka and Kushner, a couple he considers liberal, globalist traitors to his vision of the Trump presidency. In turn, the Kushners are known to blame Bannon for Trump's infamous 'blame on many sides' initial reaction to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville; the deciding factor in their determination to persuade a reluctant POTUS to agree to his ousting. Like others in the pro-gun lobby, Bannon hasn't lost sight of the president's mixed record on gun control, often depending on whether he was in one of his pro-Democrat or pro-Republican phases. Back in 2012, for example, he tweeted that President Obama 'had spoken for me and every American' after the then president's tearful tribute to the 20 Sandy Hook elementary school first graders and six teachers killed in a shooting there. In his 2000 ghost-written book, The America We Deserve Trump declared his support for the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that eventually expired in 2004 when Congress, under heavy pressure from the NRA lobby, failed to renew it. More recently, of course, Trump has reversed those positions, particularly when, encouraged by Bannon, he targeted the support of the NRA and the far right as effective weapons in the hunt for the White House. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton were regularly accused of being hellbent on quashing the Second Amendment and 'denying Americans their right to bear arms'. Early in his campaign, Trump produced a policy paper that concluded: 'Gun and magazine bans are a total failure. That's been proven every time it's been tried… I don't want to have guns in classrooms, although in some cases, teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly.' In short, Trump had fully signed up to the NRA mantra that 'the best defence to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun', In truth, neither Bannon nor the NRA lobby seem to have too much to fear from the Las Vegas massacre fallout. And, whatever the Kushners might argue behind closed White House doors, Trump himself isn't in the mood to risk another Capitol Hill defeat by offending the pro-gun lobby and the politicians (including some Democrats, it must be acknowledged) who either live in fear of their voter-influence or welcome their generous campaign funding. Here, it's worth noting that Nevada has some of America's loosest gun laws, despite polls showing 80% of the public support tougher checks on gun ownership. In Nevada it is legal to own a fully automatic machine gun, contrary to federal laws that ban such weapons unless they are 'vintage' models made before 1986. In 2013, the state governor even vetoed a bill that would have introduced the vetting of every gun sale and required mental record checks on gun purchasers. Inevitably, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history has triggered the usual formula of a bitter, angry debate, amid a national sense of horror and disbelief. Those, like Senator Elizabeth Warren – one of the favourites for the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination – who argue that political actions, as well as thoughts and prayers, are needed in the response to the shooting, find themselves met with abuse and criticism on Twitter from pro-gun supporters who accuse them of 'politicising tragedy'. Meanwhile some on that side of America's great gun divide stand accused for their own social media activity, with some accounts claiming – without any apparent evidence – that the gunman Paddock was a left-wing, Trump-hating liberal who targeted the 22,000 country music fans because they would constitute supporters of the president. For Trump's part, his response to the tragedy struck the most conventional tone of his unorthodox presidency. He stuck (awkwardly and apolitically) to the script and, even as the most non-religious POTUS in living memory, intoned: 'We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace… and we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.' And – to the relief of Bannon, the NRA and their acolytes – that is where the required script ended: prayers for unity, yes. But on gun control? Nothing substantive followed. Oh, and the US gun manufacturing industry is happy too, Their shares didn't take a hit but shot up in value instead. Thanks again, Mr President.. Paul Connew is a media commentator, broadcaster and former Sunday Mirror editor

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