“You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” Donald Trump said. It was 2017, and he was in Atlanta, speaking at a meeting of the National Rifle Association—the first time in more than thirty years that a sitting President had addressed the group. Unlike his recent predecessors, Trump did not claim to enjoy shooting skeet (Barack Obama), or doves (George W. Bush), or ducks (Bill Clinton), or quail (George H. W. Bush). His connection to the group was purely political. “We want to assure you of the sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens,” he told the members. “As your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms—never, ever.”

The N.R.A. had spent decades teaching politicians to talk like this. The organization was founded, in 1871, as a kind of non-governmental training agency, but it transformed first into a hobbyist club and then into a…

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