Trump offers support for ‘comprehensive’ approach on guns
President Trump on Wednesday called for a comprehensive approach to gun reform, challenging a number of long-held Republican positions and diving head first into the politically charged debate over guns.
The president, who has been eager to take action following a deadly shooting at a Florida high school this month, hosted a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to explore potential ways to curb gun violence.
But instead of focusing on areas of bipartisan consensus, Trump spent a majority of the hourlong meeting voicing support for a hodgepodge of ideas that are anathema to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and likely to give conservatives heartburn.
The president appeared eager to position himself as a Republican who is willing to stand up to the powerful gun group and pushed GOP lawmakers to do the same.
“Some of you are petrified of the NRA,” Trump said. “They do have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it, what do I need?”
Still, Trump did express support for ending gun-free school zones, which is a priority backed by the NRA. The president also said he likes the idea of arming trained teachers and faculty members with weapons, though suggested it may be a decision better left up to the states.
Trump seemed to be in his element during the televised, freewheeling meeting, which allowed him to play the role of dealmaker-in-chief.
He promised to write an executive order banning bump stock, devices that make semi-automatic weapons fire more rapidly, telling lawmakers they can “focus on other things” when writing legislation.
He repeatedly urged members to put all their ideas into one single comprehensive bill as opposed to passing several piecemeal measures, suggesting one of the background check bills in the Senate could serve as the building block for overarching legislation.
“It would be so beautiful if we could have one bill everybody could support,” Trump said.
In one stunning moment, Trump seemed to advocate for confiscating guns from individuals deemed dangerous.
“I like taking the guns early like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida … to go to court would have taken a long time,” Trump said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Some Republicans are already firing back at that suggestion.
“We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who wasn’t at the meeting, said in a statement.
Trump also swatted down House GOP leadership’s strategy of linking a bipartisan bill to improve the federal criminal background check system for gun purchases with controversial legislation backed by the NRA that would allow people to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot during a GOP baseball practice over the summer, pressed Trump to back the concealed carry idea.
But Trump warned Scalise that the background check bill would “never pass” if it included concealed carry reciprocity and urged leaders to decouple the two issues.
Trump also said he would seriously consider supporting the idea of raising the age requirement to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 — an idea that was met by resistance from conservatives this week, and one Trump admitted was not “popular.”
“I’m going to say it anyway, ” Trump said. “I’m gonna give it a lot of consideration. A lot of people don’t even wanna bring it up.”
Trump had already expressed support for a modest bill, called Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), that would improve the existing criminal background check system for gun purchases by encouraging states to report relevant information to the federal database.
But Trump, who repeatedly called for “strong” background checks, asked whether Fix NICS could be merged with a far more expansive background check bill from Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
He also suggested loading the bill up with other gun proposals, such as new age limits for riffles and language addressing incidents of domestic violence, and giving the bill a new name like “the U.S. Background Check Bill, or whatever.”
“Let’s add everything to it,” Trump said.
The Manchin-Toomey measure, which failed to pass in 2013 and has been panned by conservatives, would have expanded background checks to cover sellers, such as online sellers and unlicensed gun show dealers.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who was at the White House meeting on Wednesday, interpreted Trump’s comments as being supportive of the measure.
“I think it’s a very big development,” Murphy said after the meeting. “The president came out forcefully in favor of universal background checks, and he has the power to deliver Republican votes.”
However, it’s unclear how familiar Trump is with the details of the Manchin-Toomey bill. At one point, he asked whether the background check measure raised the age requirement to buy a rifle. When Toomey told him it didn’t, Trump suggested it’s because he’s “afraid of the NRA.”
It’s also uncertain whether Trump will stick to his positions. The wild meeting drew comparisons to last month’s immigration meeting at the White House, when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had to walk back Trump’s statement that he would support a clean immigration bill without border security.
At that meeting, Trump also told lawmakers he would pass any immigration bill sent to his desk, only for the White House to subsequently work to ensure the defeat of a bipartisan bill in the Senate.
Still, the uncertainty about what’s next didn’t stop lawmakers from both sides of the aisle from trying to appeal to Trump to support their priorities.
Some members appeared to use flattery on Trump, with Murphy saying the president has the sole power to bring Republicans to the table on gun reform.
And Trump seemed to relish in it.
“I like that responsibility,” he said