Trump signals shift on guns
President Trump on Thursday signaled a dramatic shift on guns a day after he held an emotional listening session in the Oval Office with the families of victims and survivors of a mass shooting at a Florida high school.
In a torrent of morning tweets, the president for the first time expressed support for a range of policies that will put him at odds with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful gun lobby that spent more than $30 million to help elect him in 2016.
Trump said he wants a total ban on bump stocks, the rifle attachment that allow guns to fire like automatic weapons. The president said he supports raising the age of purchase for long guns from 18 to 21 and that he will be “strongly pushing” for comprehensive background checks.
“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope,” Trump tweeted.
It’s still unclear just how far Trump intends to go and the policy that seems to energize him the most — arming school officials who have been trained to handle firearms so they can shoot back at potential gunmen — is highly controversial.
But the president was clearly moved to action by his meeting with those who experienced the horror of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded.
“I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families,” Trump tweeted. “So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down.”
Trump will meet on Thursday with local law enforcement and government officials about school safety.
The latest school shooting has provoked an outpouring of outrage over the nation’s gun laws. The surviving students have flooded state capitols, cable news and social media, demanding changes and dramatically altering the politics around the debate over guns, which had otherwise become routine.
But even as the president expressed support for new gun control measures, the NRA received a hero’s welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) north of Washington, the premier annual event for grassroots conservatives.
Many on the right believe the new contours of the debate have finally exposed the left’s true intentions — the confiscation and destruction of all guns, an idea that was an applause line at a CNN town hall debate about guns on Wednesday night.
Conservatives are certain that gun control activists have awoken a sleeping giant and that gun owners will flood to the polls for midterm elections to defend their Second Amendment rights.
“We’re here. We’re not going anywhere,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch thundered to huge applause.
Moments before Loesch took the stage, Trump tweeted out praise for NRA officials Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox — even while seeming to ramp up pressure on them to bend to his will and “do the right thing.”
“They love our Country and will do the right thing,” Trump tweeted.
But in a fiery speech at CPAC, LaPierre dismissed calls for new legislation, saying they come from people who “fantasize about more laws stopping what other laws fail to stop.”
Polls show broad support for some changes to gun laws, like comprehensive background checks, and Republican lawmakers are feeling pressure to act.
At the CNN event, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said some of his views on the matter had changed. Rubio came out in support of an age requirement to buy guns and said he is open to reconsidering magazine sizes, both of which are opposed by the NRA.
Rubio was booed at times by the audience but was praised by pundits and his colleague, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), for having the courage to enter hostile political territory at a time when emotions over the gun debate are running hot.
“American politics is the only part of our lives where changing your mind based on new information is a bad thing,” Rubio said.
Trump is similarly changing his mind after campaigning as a Second Amendment absolutist.
The president said Thursday that he supports “comprehensive” background checks.
The NRA is supportive of legislation approved by the House that would incentivize state and federal agencies to submit conviction records into the national background checks system for gun purchases, which is aimed at bolstering — rather than expanding — current law.
It’s unclear whether Trump supports expanding the current system, but it sounds like the president is willing to go further than what the NRA wants, potentially opening the door to background checks for private transactions.
The NRA is openly opposing Trump’s proposal to raise the age of sale for long guns from 18 to 21, which is fast gaining steam among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Rubio and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.) have voiced support for new age restrictions in recent days.
And Trump has announced that he supports a full ban on the sale of bump stocks, days after instructing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review whether new regulations are warranted.
The NRA has said it supports a review of whether bump stocks should be subject to new federal regulations but does not support banning them outright, as Trump is now calling for.
Meanwhile, Trump is also setting himself up for battle with gun control activists by calling for school officials to be armed.
The president insists that he doesn’t want to indiscriminately arm teachers, but is calling for those with military or other special training to be able to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
Conservatives have long said gun-free school zones are prime targets for shooters who can rampage knowing that they won’t be in a firefight until the police arrive.
Trump leaned into that argument over Twitter on Thursday, saying the nation “must be offensive, defense alone won’t work.”
“Look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience — only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions,” Trump tweeted.
“Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A ‘gun free’’ school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!,” he said.
The NRA on Thursday backed Trump’s proposal to protect schools with guns, although there will be little appetite among gun control activists for increasing the number of guns on school grounds.
“Everyday young children are being dropped off at schools that are wide-open, soft targets for people bent on mass murder,” LaPierre said. “It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store or some Hollywood gala.”