HOWEY: President Tough Guy? Or President Mouse?

President Donald Trump waves to the crowd after arriving on Air Force One at Louisville International Airport in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Brian Howey

NASHVILLE, Ind. — So there was President Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday, mocking his most recently departed National Security Adviser John Bolton as a "Mr. Tough Guy."

A few minutes later, President Tough Guy was seated with Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, announcing a ban on flavored vapes. "We have a problem in our country," Trump said, springing into action after five vape-related deaths nationally, including one in Indiana. "It's called vaping, especially vaping as it pertains to innocent children."

But if you want to talk about protecting "innocent children," the huge elephant on the table is the epidemic of mass shootings in our nation in places like Sante Fe and Marjorie Stoneman Douglass high schools in Texas and Florida, and, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School where more than 20 little kids and educators were slaughtered. Most of these involved AR-15s and many other incidents have killed hundreds of people.

And on this point, "President Tough Guy" might as well be "President Mouse." Because we have no idea where he stands on several issues with widespread support, according to recent polling by Fox News, NBC/Wall Street Journal and ABC/Washington Post. The support for expanding background checks is in the 90th percentile. A national red flag law — which has been invoked more than a thousand times since the Indiana General Assembly passed our version in 2005 — gets support measuring 80%. Fox News found that 66% favor an assault weapon ban.

I've described the epidemic of atrocities in our schools, malls, concerts and night clubs as a virtual "guerrilla war" unleashed on our population who now ponders escape routes when entering movie theaters and bars.

I asked U.S. Rep. Jim Banks if my "guerrilla war" description was proper. Banks is a conservative Republican from Columbia City, a military veteran and an ardent 2nd Amendment supporter. "No, I don’t think so," Banks said. "Look, I'm a father and each one of these shootings is deeply emotional for me and for anyone else who watches them. I want to do anything I can to from my position to address them and keep them from happening again."

Are mass shootings the "new norm" in American life? "No," Banks responded. "It's not the new norm. It shouldn't be the new norm. Our political leaders have to rise up and do something about it."

Then he mentioned my column last week ("Of cephalopods & CEOs"), saying, "I agree with your column today that's what is not happening. Many of these incidents happened over the August recess, so we'll go back into session next week and fully expect to see the Senate take something up."

The problem for Republicans is they don't know where President Trump is on a policy standpoint. After the bloody August atrocities in Dayton and El Paso, he talked about expanding background checks. But then he took a call from NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and President Tough Guy turned into President Mouse, even though a large majority of NRA members support expanded background checks and red flag laws.

I observed to Banks that it's a problem figuring out where Trump stands, right?

"Right," Banks responded. "The president has to use the bully pulpit and talk about what we can do. That's where I fall on this issue. As an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment, how do we protect 2nd Amendment rights and due process? Each one of these mass shootings has exposed areas where current law has been enforced."

Rep. Banks isn't the only ardent 2nd Amendment-supporting Republican who realizes things have to change. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun told MSNBC on Wednesday that Trump needs to act. "I would encourage him ... to get on board this time," Braun said. "I'm a member of the NRA and if we do nothing, we're going to lose our 2nd Amendment rights to the extent we have them right now. We can't turn a deaf ear, day after day, to the misuse of guns."

I mentioned to Banks that it's not all on President Trump and Congress. The general public has alerted authorities to more than three dozen potential mass assaults since the bloody August guerrilla atrocities. Schools are monitoring the "crazy" students on social media. When I was in high school, that group of crazy students might smoke weed in the restroom or blow up a toilet with an M-80. Today they'll mow down dozens of classmates.

Congress and President George W. Bush acted with fortitude in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. After passing the Patriot Act, and reorganizing our federal intelligence and security components, we haven't had a single foreign-perpetrated terror attack since.

On Sept. 11 this past week, the students at Hammond High School sought to remember the American heroes and victims of 18 years prior ... before most of them were even conceived. They were climbing 1,980 steps to honor the World Trade Center victims. And then came blaring over the public address system "Code White!" and everyone scrambled to their pre-designated safe rooms they've practiced in their "active shooter drills."

There had been a threat via social media.

The kids at Hammond High must be pondering whether President Tough Guy will take a stand, or whether we'll have to settle for President Mouse.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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