With the 2024 presidential election cycle in full gear, former President Donald Trump paid a visit to Harrisburg Friday to speak at a presidential forum at the National Rifle Association’s Great American Outdoor Show, where he vowed to defend the rights of gun owners if he returns to the Oval Office in 2025.
“Your Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your president,” Trump said, adding that “no one will lay a finger on your firearms” if he is elected president for a second time later this year.
Trump, in an at-times rambling speech that stretched 80 minutes and touched on everything from concealed-carry policies to classified documents, framed the 2024 presidential election in terms of firearm access, claiming that reelecting President Joe Biden will spell doom for the Second Amendment. “Four more years of Joe Biden means four more years of anti-gun communists running the ATF,” the former president said, referring to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“If Joe Biden is reelected, your gun rights will be gone – they’ll be totally gone,” he added.
Trump – who is facing felony charges in cases related to election interference, his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, hush money payments to a porn star, and over his handling of classified documents – looked to pin the blame on Biden for high interest rates and food costs, and hit the president over his withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. He also falsely repeated that he won Pennsylvania in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. (Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020 by more than 80,000 votes, according to Pennsylvania’s certified 2020 election results.)
Trump kicked off his speech by thanking Republican members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation who were in attendance, including U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, Lloyd Smucker, Dan Meuser and Scott Perry, the latter of whom Trump called a “brave man.” Perry has drawn the attention of federal and congressional investigators over his efforts to install Jeffrey Clark – then an assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice who was sympathetic to Trump’s false claims of voter fraud – as attorney general following the 2020 presidential election.
Prior to Trump, NRA President Charles Cotton spoke to the crowd, highlighting Trump’s efforts to install conservative judges during his presidency, and said the Second Amendment “has no greater friend than Donald Trump.”
“We are so much better off from having Donald Trump as our president,” Cotton told a raucous crowd of roughly 7,000 attendees at a packed New Holland Arena at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
Trump was preceded by several other speakers, including Andrew Arulanandam, the interim CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, who praised Trump for expanding hunting opportunities during his presidency and pulling the U.S. out of a United Nations arms treaty in 2019. “2024 will be a decisive year in our fight to protect our rights,” Arulanandam said.
The former president’s appearance in Harrisburg came just weeks after Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives advanced several gun control measures out of a legislative committee.
The measures include House Bill 336, a ban on the future sales of assault weapons, which the bill defines as a “selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic or burst fire at the option of the user,” as well as guns that have “the ability to accept a large-capacity magazine.”
During the Jan. 19 committee meeting, House Democrats also advanced a ban on the sale of bump stocks, a ban on 3D-printed firearm parts, as well as legislation that would prohibit the sale and transfer of gun parts that lack a serial number, commonly known as “ghost guns.” Each of those bills would still require a vote from the full state House, as well as the GOP-controlled state Senate, to reach the governor’s desk.
Trump’s appearance comes during the same week Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro outlined his 2024-25 budget proposal, which calls for a $100 million increase in funding for a series of gun violence prevention initiatives.
The governor’s budget proposal includes a $37.5 million increase for the state’s Violence Intervention and Prevention program, and a $37.5 million increase for its Gun Violence Investigation and Prosecution Program. It also seeks $11.5 million to create a new state program designed to create more after-school programs for youth, and another $11 million for efforts to build parks, remediate blight and improve spaces in communities affected by gun violence.
All of those initiatives – and the funding associated with them – would require approval from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
In the leadup to Trump’s Harrisburg visit, Pennsylvania Democrats blasted Trump for his record on gun policy. Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chair Sharif Street accused Trump of putting the gun lobby over the safety of Pennsylvania residents.
“The same Trump that made the gun violence epidemic worse in his first term and told victims of gun violence to ‘get over it’ is running to block measures that would help protect Pennsylvania’s families and communities and even roll back the bipartisan progress President Biden and Vice President Harris have made on common sense gun safety solutions,” Street said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman also weighed in on Trump’s visit to the state capital, framing the 2024 presidential contest in stark terms when it comes to gun violence and gun policy. “Do you want a candidate who has the kinds of priorities and policies to reduce gun deaths here in our nation? Or do we want a kind of candidate who has the kinds of policies and objectives that are going to lead to more deaths from gun violence here in our nation?” Fetterman asked in a statement on Friday.
Trump’s appearance comes one day after Special Counsel Robert K. Hur recommended against charging Biden after an investigation into the current president’s handling of classified documents, despite stating that Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.”
Trump, who is facing multiple charges related to a separate investigation into his own handling of classified documents, criticized the Department of Justice for charging him and not Biden. Trump said if Biden isn’t facing charges over classified documents, then he shouldn’t, either.
He finished the night by highlighting just how important the commonwealth will be in the presidential election in 2024, emphasizing that “Pennsylvania is one of the most important battleground states in the nation.”