Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — Former President Donald Trump made a series of gun policy promises in a speech to NRA members that ranged from raucous to repetitious.
Speaking before a crowd of thousands that nearly filled up the New Holland Arena at the Great American Outdoor Show, though there wasn’t a vast overflow crowd as he claimed, Trump recounted his record on gun policy–most of it accurate. He also previewed what he planned to do on gun policy with another term in office. Most of those plans revolved around undoing President Joe Biden’s efforts to institute new gun restrictions.
“Every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated my very first week back in office,” Trump told the crowd to cheers.
The event ended somewhat anti-climactic. Despite creating a new political event, the Presidential Forum, for the Great American Outdoor Show and doing everything but, the NRA did not issue a formal endorsement of Trump (though Trump said it better do so when he speaks to the group again at its Annual Meeting in May). And, while he made specific promises to undo Biden’s gun efforts and sign a national concealed carry reciprocity bill, those were all points he’d made at previous NRA events.
But the event did give Trump the opportunity to stump in the key swing state of Pennsylvania. His win there in 2016 helped propel him to a surprise victory, and his loss in 2020 (though he lied about winning the state that year in his speech) kept him from repeating. The outcome of the 2024 race in Pennsylvania will likely be decisive in what’s shaping up to be a rematch between Trump and Biden.
Trump sought to draw a stark contrast between himself and Biden on gun policy during the speech.
“Joe Biden and his thugs will do everything in their power to confiscate your guns and annihilate your God-given right to self-defense,” he said. “A meaningful Second Amendment, which you have, it’s under siege. They got nowhere with me, but there are a lot of other things happening with Biden.”
However, despite doubling down on his support for it early in the primary campaign, Trump did not mention his unilateral bump stock ban and confiscation effort. That ban has served as a template for many of Biden’s executive rulemaking on guns. It has also been declared unconstitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court is set to hear a case against it this term.
Trump touted a number of genuine accomplishments on guns during his speech. He pointed to his signing of a bill to repeal an Obama-era regulation that would have barred some Social Security recipients from owning guns–his only legislative win on firearms. Trump pointed to his action declaring gun stores essential businesses during the pandemic as well. But he also claimed to have reversed what seems to be an imagined ammunition ban.
Trump and the NRA have enjoyed a very close relationship since the gun group became the first major organization to endorse the former president before the end of the contentious 2016 Republican primary. It was one of the only ones to spend big, putting more than $50 million into the race during his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton. Trump rewarded that effort by often giving the NRA his ear when he was in the Oval Office.
The relationship didn’t always go swimmingly, with the NRA having to talk Trump out of supporting gun-control measures like “red flag” laws and “assault weapons” bans in the wake of several mass shootings. But that influence did manage to keep Trump from going all in on pursuing those policies.
As Trump touted in his Friday speech, the relationship also culminated in the appointment of three Supreme Court justices who all signed on to the majority in NRA-affiliate New York State Rifle and Pistol Association’s landmark victory over the state’s restrictive gun-carry permitting regime.
But the Outdoor Show speech comes as both Trump and the NRA have become bogged down in serious legal fights. Trump is fighting 91 felony indictments stemming from his attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss and refusal to turn over classified documents after leaving office–indictments that make it illegal for him to buy new guns. The NRA is facing a corruption trial over its leadership, including recently-resigned CEO Wayne LaPierre, diverting millions of NRA dollars to lavish personal expenses, such as private flights and luxury vacations.
The outcome of those cases could radically alter the trajectory of the Trump campaign or the entire makeup of the NRA. But, wherever things end up, the legal battles have already taken a severe toll on the spending ability of both.
Trump’s political operation spent much of the money it raised in 2023 on fighting his charges and numerous lawsuits that extend beyond the criminal cases. The NRA is in a similar spot, having spent more than $100 million on outside lawyers over the past five years. It’s unclear how many members the group has left, but it’s down far more than a million from before the corruption allegations surfaced. Its election war chest is lagging well behind previous cycles.
But Trump and the NRA remain potentially potent political forces.
Turnout for the Great American Outdoor Show likely made it one of the top gun shows in the world once again, even if the crowd wasn’t quite at capacity and parking was still easy to get in the late afternoon. Trump was still able to inspire laughter, adoration, and derision (directed alongside shouted profanity at those in the media pen) from his supporters–at least, at certain points.
There’s also a clear opening to run against President Biden on gun policy. Biden has signed the first new federal legislative restrictions on who can own a gun in a long time and implemented multiple administrative bans on popular firearms and accessories. He’s called for doing even more, such as banning AR-15s and ammunition magazines. But those efforts haven’t helped improve his poor approval rating on gun policy.
Biden and Trump–each deeply unpopular–have run mostly within the margin of error to this point in 2024 polling. Still, Trump is currently up less than two points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
“I can tell you that the only thing standing between you and the obliteration of your under-siege Second Amendment is me,” Trump said to riotous cheering as he hit on a crowd-pleasing line while meandered through his stream-of-consciousness speech.
But, as his speech crossed the hour mark, few Trump supporters were left standing or yelling. Trump’s tendency to repeat topics and go on extended asides seemed to wear on their enthusiasm after a while. By the end, 15 minutes later, about half of the arena had already cleared out.