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Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform
Democrats fighting for tougher gun laws think they may have an ally in an unlikely place: the Oval Office.
President Trump, since launching his campaign in 2015, has aligned himself squarely with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun conservatives who oppose virtually any new restrictions on buying and owning firearms -- a position staked out clearly this week by Republican leaders responding to Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas.
But in previous years, Trump had supported reforms aimed at preventing dangerous people from getting their hands on guns -- reforms similar to those being pushed by Democrats following the Las Vegas massacre. And on Tuesday, the president left the door open for firearm reforms, saying "we will be talking about gun laws as time goes by."
Trump's history has not been overlooked by the Democrats, who are already encouraged by a pair of recent agreements on government spending and immigration -- the first finalized, the second tentative -- between the president and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.
Hoping to build on that bipartisan cooperation, a group of almost 100 House Democrats sent a letter to Trump Wednesday urging the president to join their effort to combat the gun-violence plague that was highlighted so tragically Sunday in Las Vegas.
Behind Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), head of the Democrats' gun-violence prevention task force, the lawmakers are practically pleading with Trump to sit down with them in search of reforms that could break the barriers erected by GOP leaders in Congress.
"You have the power to make real change in America and protect our communities from the senseless gun violence like we saw in Las Vegas. Together, we can find common ground that respects and supports the 2nd Amendment while keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them -- criminals and the dangerously mentally ill," the Democrats wrote.
"We are reaching out to you, please: join us in the fight to end gun violence."
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats have also taken note of Trump's historic fluctuations on gun control. Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the chamber floor this week to remind Trump of his past advocacy and press the president to take a stand in response to the Las Vegas tragedy.
"Before he ran for office, [Trump] was for certain sane, rational, limited aspects of gun control. After Sandy Hook he called for the gun laws to be tightened," said Schumer, a fellow New Yorker who had helped broker the budget and immigration agreements with the president in recent weeks.
Schumer acknowledged that Trump has veered to the right on gun reform since the start of the 2016 campaign, attributing the shift to "the power of the NRA [and] the money of the NRA."
"But," Schumer added, "maybe he can have a bit of a reawakening because of the horror of what happened [in Las Vegas]."
Not all Democrats are on board with the idea of recruiting Trump's help. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who helped lead the Democrats' gun-control sit-in on the House floor last year, declined to endorse Thompson's letter. The reason, she said, is a simple distrust in the president to back any meaningful reforms.
But many other Democrats, while wary of Trump's intentions, said they're happy to have the president's help in pushing reforms that the majority of Republicans have dismissed for years.
"I think that would be great for the country," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), head of the Democrats' policy and communications arm.
"It's hard to believe he would be willing to do that -- he would have to really take on the Republican House leadership who have been completely opposed to any consideration of any measures to reduce gun violence in this country," Cicilline added. "[But] it would be a great opportunity if the president were willing to show some leadership in this moment."
The Democrats have rekindled their years-long push for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, which left 59 people dead and more than 520 injured. It marked the worst mass shooting in the nation's history.
But gun reformers are facing an uphill battle, as GOP leaders in both chambers have rejected the notion that the nation's gun laws are too permissive.
In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the key to reducing gun violence is to strengthen the mental healthcare system, not restrict guns. Indeed, he's hoping to soon move a proposal easing restrictions on gun silencers, and another extending the reach of concealed-carry permits to include all states.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week that it's "completely inappropriate to politicize" the Las Vegas shooting. He's pushing to move to tax reform. And Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) suggested to NBC News that people shouldn't look to Congress to protect them from gun violence.
"I think people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions. To protect themselves," he said.
Prior to launching his political career, Trump endorsed a handful of gun reforms championed by the Democrats.
"I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun," he wrote in his 2000 book, "The America We Deserve."
Trump also tweeted his support of President Obama's proposed response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage of 2012 -- a response that included a long list of gun control provisions like expanded background checks on prospective gun buyers.
"President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut," Trump said at the time.
There are risks for the president if he joins the Democrats and embraces tougher gun laws.
The NRA backed Trump early, and the president relished the group's support.
Earlier this year, Trump became the first sitting president to speak to the NRA since Ronald Reagan. During the speech, he said he would "never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
Stephen Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, warned this week that it would be "impossible" for Trump to shift positions and endorse the same reforms he'd decried on the campaign trial, where he sometimes boasted of carrying a gun.
"[It] will be the end of everything," Bannon told Axios.