Five ways Trump broke with the GOP on guns


Challenging the leaders of his own party, President Trump on Wednesday urged Congress to adopt a host of gun restrictions that have long been anathema to Republicans on Capitol Hill.

In an extraordinary televised meeting with lawmakers of both parties at the White House, Trump called for quick action on expanding background checks, increasing the gun-buying age and empowering law enforcement to confiscate firearms from potentially unstable people — even without a court’s approval.

All of those proposals are fervently opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and most Republicans in Congress — and Trump suggested the relationship between those two groups is much of the problem. 

“Some of you people are petrified of the NRA,” he said. “You can’t be petrified.” 

The ultimate significance of Trump’s remarks remains to be seen. Last month, the president hosted a similar bipartisan meeting on immigration, where he vowed quick action to protect “Dreamers” and appeared similarly sympathetic to the Democrats’ arguments. He later adopted a much harder line, and the “Dreamer” legislation he promised to champion has gone nowhere in Congress. 

Here are five places where Trump broke with his own party on guns.

Trump wants to go big on the issue

Comprehensive bills rarely succeed in Washington, but Trump says he wants to go big when it comes to gun reforms.

“Some people don’t like the word comprehensive. I like the word comprehensive,” Trump told lawmakers on Wednesday. 

The president praised legislation authored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would expand background checks for gun purchases, but then pressed the bipartisan duo to add to it.

Specifically, Trump suggested merging the Toomey-Manchin bill with the legislation known as the Fix NICS Act, which would penalize states for failing to submit criminal records to the federal background check system for firearms.

He also said Toomey and Manchin should add a provision raising to 21 the age restriction for those purchasing rifles. And he said he was “all for” a proposal by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would expand firearm background checks to include domestic violence cases.

“Fix NICS has some really good things in it,” Trump said, “but it would be nice if we could add everything on to it.” 

Most House Republicans, however, believe that more gun laws aren’t the answer.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week.

He says concealed carry should be divorced from Fix NICS

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) pointed to the House-passed background checks package to show that Republicans have already acted to curb gun violence.

But that bill pairs Fix NICS background checks legislation with the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, an NRA-backed provision that expands rights for the holders of concealed carry permits. 

And on Wednesday, Trump made it very clear he didn’t like that approach.

“You know I’m your biggest fan in the whole world, right?” Trump told Scalise, who over the summer was critically injured in a mass shooting at a congressional baseball practice. “If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame. … I’m with you, but let it be a separate bill.”

“You’ll never get this passed. If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed,” Trump added. “Let it be a separate bill.”

Scalise pleaded with Trump not to dismiss the GOP bill, which would allow concealed carry permit holders to legally bring their firearms across state lines.   

“Clearly, the Senate may have some issues with parts of the bill, but let’s not just discard that. Let’s at least have a broader conversation,” Scalise said. 

But later in the conversation, Trump again slapped down the idea: “Steve, it’s very hard to add the one thing that you want.” 

He wants aggressive action on universal background checks

Republicans for years have resisted expanding background checks to include guns sold by unlicensed dealers, who are not required to screen potential buyers through the FBI’s database of prohibited people. Trump on Wednesday took a decidedly different tack, calling for an aggressive approach to strengthening the background check system. 

“You have to be very powerful on background checks,” he said. “Don’t be shy.”

The president expressed amazement that Congress failed to bolster background checks in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, asking “why didn’t they do something about it?”

The answer, in part, was seated in front of him. 

In 2013, responding to the Sandy Hook shooting, Senate Democratic leaders brought the Manchin-Toomey bill to the floor, where a Republican filibuster blocked it. Among the opponents at the time were three of the senators at Wednesday’s meeting: Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). 

Toomey defended his Republican colleagues, saying their opposition was rooted in a widespread distrust in President Obama to implement the changes fairly. 

“President Obama did support it, but there was a worry that he wanted to go further, frankly, and that was a concern for some of our guys,” Toomey said. 

The Republicans also touted their Fix NICS bill, sponsored by Cornyn, which would encourage more reporting to the FBI database without expanding it to include more sales. The Democrats support the measure, but maintain it falls well short of the universal screenings they’re advocating. 

Trump seemed to favor their position.

“I’d rather have you come down on the strong side, instead of the weak side,” Trump said. “The weak side would be much easier. I’d rather have you come up with a strong, strong bill, and really strong on background checks.”

He says due process is secondary to public safety

Democrats pushing legislation empowering the authorities to confiscate guns from potentially violent people have run into some opposition from conservatives — and even liberal civil liberties advocates — warning against the erosion of constitutional due process rights.

Trump said Wednesday that public safety should take precedence over those civil liberties.

Interrupting Vice President Pence — who was making the case that due process must be protected before law enforcers intervene to take guns — Trump championed the opposite approach.

“Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump said. “Because a lot of times … it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures — I like taking the guns early. 

“So you could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Trump argued that the suspect in the recent Parkland, Fla., high school shooting — a former student with a long history of disciplinary problems — clearly exhibited behavior that should have guided local law enforcment to take his guns. 

“You can take the guns away immediately from people that you can adjudge easily are mentally ill, like this guy,” he said.

Trump allowed that such a move might be illegal, but dismissed the lack of authority as a technicality. 

“The police saw that he was a problem, they didn’t take any guns away,” he said. “Now that could have been policing, [but] I think they should have taken them away anyway, whether they had the right or not.” 

He’s open to hiking age limits for gun purchases

The 19-year-old suspect in the Parkland shooting — who is said to have purchased a military-style rifle lawfully — has prompted new scrutiny of the legal age to purchase an assault weapon.

Trump on Wednesday led that charge.

“A lot of people don’t even want to bring it up because they’re afraid to bring it up, but you can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20 — you have to wait till your 21 — but you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18,” he said.

“It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18,” he said.

Most Republicans, backed by the NRA, oppose that change. Toomey on Wednesday explained the reason to the president.

“My reservation about it, frankly, is that the vast majority of 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds in Pennsylvania who have a rifle or a shotgun, they’re not a threat to anyone. They’re law-abiding citizens,” Toomey said.  “They have that because they want to use it for hunting or target shooting, and to deny them their Second Amendment right is not going to make anyone safer.”

That didn’t appear to dissuade Trump, however, who later in the meeting pressed the lawmakers to consider the change as part of a larger reform package.

“You have to look at the age of 21 for certain types of weapons,” he said. “I mean, some people aren’t going to like that, but you’re going to have to look at that very seriously.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Donald Trump Joe Manchin John Cornyn Marco Rubio Pat Toomey Paul Ryan Steve Scalise

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