VOL. 42 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 23, 2018
Trump bucks NRA, backs raising age for buying assault rifles
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation should keep assault rifles out of the hands of anyone under 21, President Donald Trump says, defying his loyal supporters in the National Rifle Association amid America's public reckoning over gun violence. He also pushed hard for arming security guards and many teachers in U.S. schools.
"There's nothing more important than protecting our children," Trump said, adding that he'd spoken with many members of Congress and NRA officials and insisting they would go along with his plans in the wake of last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
But there were no words of support from the NRA for his minimum-age proposal — and outright opposition from organizations of teachers and school security guards for the idea of arming schools to deal with intruders.
"The NRA will back it and so will Congress," Trump contended as he called for raising the legal age of purchase for "all" guns from 18 to 21. A spokesman later said Trump was speaking specifically about semi-automatic weapons. The president's proposal came just hours after the NRA affirmed its opposition, calling such a restriction an infringement on gun owners' rights.
Trump has spent the past two days listening to ideas about how to stem gun violence at schools after last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday, he heard from students and family members of those killed in recent shootings and on Thursday from local and state officials.
In Florida, meanwhile, funerals continued. And a sheriff's deputy who had been on duty at the school but never went inside to confront the shooter resigned after being suspended without pay.
Trump has been proposing a growing list of ideas, including more stringent background checks for gun buyers, reopening some mental institutions to hold potential killers and banning "bump stock" devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic machine guns.
He said Thursday that many teachers have military experience and suggested they be paid bonuses for the added responsibility of carrying weapons. He also appeared open to other proposals to "harden" schools, such as fortifying walls and limiting entry points.
One idea he didn't like: the "active shooter" drills that some schools hold. He called that "a very negative thing" and said he wouldn't want his own son participating.
Spokesman Raj Shah later said Trump was concerned about the name and would prefer calling them safety drills.
In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he now is open to raising age requirements for long-gun purchases. That was the day after he was confronted at a CNN town hall by Parkland students and parents over his pro-gun votes and support from the NRA.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, another Republican, told reporters during a visit to the Kansas Statehouse that he supported raising age requirements, saying, "Certainly, nobody under 21 should have an AR-15."
NRA leaders emerged in unannounced appearances at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, blaming the FBI and local reporting failures for the Florida shooting.
"Evil walks among us and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids," said Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. "The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous."
The NRA was an early supporter of Trump's campaign, and it remains unclear how far the president will go to cross them.
Shortly before LaPierre took the stage, Trump offered a rallying cry on Twitter, calling NRA leaders "Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing."
"I don't think I'll be going up against them," he said of the politically influential group. "I really think the NRA wants to do what's right."
In Congress, a bill being drafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would apply more broadly than just to assault rifles such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shootings. It would raise the age requirements for all rifles.
In the end, Trump did not stray too far from conservative Republican orthodoxy. His focus when it comes to background checks is on mental health concerns and not loopholes that permit loose private gun sales on the internet and at gun shows. And he remains opposed to a full ban on assault rifles, Shah said.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was skeptical the president would follow though.
"The last time he showed support for sensible gun reform — no fly, no buy — he quickly dropped his support once the NRA opposed it. I hope this time will be different," Schumer said in a statement, referring to a measure backed by Democrats to prevent people on a terrorism-related "no fly" list from buying guns.
Indeed, it is not clear that the GOP-controlled Congress, which is in recess, will take up or act on a variety of legislative proposals that have been made to address gun violence. Those include measures to expand federal background checks, allow authorities to issue emergency orders to take guns from people identified as a threat to themselves or others, and raise the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21.
Polls show growing support for gun control measures, including 97-percent backing for universal background checks in a Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday.
But recent mass shootings, including the 2012 mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, and the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas last fall, have not resulted in significant legislation. In fact, a bill passed by the House in December would make it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville, Alan Fram and Sadie Gurman in Washington, Zeke Miller in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.
han protecting our children," amid a public outcry for action after the Florida school shooting.
Trump said he spoke Wednesday night with many members of Congress and "they're into background checks." The president commented as he opened a school safety discussion at the White House with state and local officials from around the country.
Early Thursday, Trump tweeted his strongest stance on gun control one day after an emotional White House session where students and parents poured out wrenching tales of lost lives and pleaded for action.
Trump said on Twitter, "I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks!" The president did not immediately offer more details.
Trump's focus on gun violence came as leaders of the National Rifle Association offered a vigorous defense of gun rights during the Conservative Political Action Conference, urging enhanced — and armed — security at schools. An armed Broward County sheriff's deputy, the regular school resource officer, was on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, at the time of the shooting.
"Evil walks among us and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids," said NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. "The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous."
The NRA officials didn't address whether the federal government should raise the age limit for young adults to buy weapons, accusing Democrats and media outlets of exploiting the Florida shooting. The NRA on Wednesday announced it opposes raising the age limit.
"Many in legacy media love mass shootings, you guys love it," said NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch at CPAC. "Now I'm not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold."
The current federal minimum age for buying or possessing handguns is 21, but the limit is 18 for rifles including assault-type weapons such as the AR-15 used by a former student in last week's attack in Florida that killed 17 students and staff members.
"We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18," Trump said at the White House, adding that he thinks the NRA will back it — despite the group's stated opposition.
In another tweet, Trump repeated his urgent call for trained teachers or others in schools to carry guns as a deterrent to attacks.
"If a potential 'sicko shooter' knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won't go there...problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won't work!" Trump tweeted.
He has previously expressed an interest in efforts to strengthen the federal background check system. It was not clear if he would back closing loopholes that permit loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows.
The National Rifle Associated on Wednesday quickly rejected any talk of raising the age for buying long guns to 21.
"Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection," the group said in a statement.
Trump, despite his new push for at least some gun-control changes, stressed his backing for the NRA on Thursday, tweeting that "the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
Speaking at CPAC, Vice President Mike Pence said that in a meeting with governors at the White House next Monday, Trump and the state leaders will "make the safety of our nation's schools and our students our top national priority."
On Wednesday, Trump listened intently at the White House as students described the horror of the shootings in Parkland, Florida. The students and their parents appealed to him to press for stricter gun controls.
"I turned 18 the day after" the shooting, said tearful student Samuel Zeif. "Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. And I don't understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war. An AR. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?"
Trump promised to be "very strong on background checks." And he indicated he supported allowing some teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons to be ready for intruders.
The president had invited the teen survivors of school violence and parents of murdered children in a show of his resolve against gun violence in the wake of last week's shootings in Florida and in past years at schools in Connecticut and Colorado.
Trump asked his guests to suggest solutions and solicited feedback. He did not fully endorse any specific policy solution, but pledged to take action and expressed interest in widely differing approaches.
He largely listened, holding handwritten notes bearing his message to the families. "I hear you" was written in black marker.
Besides considering concealed carrying of weapons by trained school employees, a concept he has endorsed in the past, he said he planned to go "very strongly into age, age of purchase." And he said he was committed to improving background checks and working on mental health.
Most in the group Wednesday were emotional but quiet and polite.
But Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week, noted the previous school massacres and raged over his loss, saying this moment isn't about gun laws but about fixing the schools.
"It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it and I'm pissed. Because my daughter, I'm not going to see again," said Pollack. "King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now."
A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of supporters.
The people assembled for the White House meeting on Wednesday included parents of students killed in massacres at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Students and parents from the Washington area also were present.
Trump later tweeted that he would "always remember" the meeting. "So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down. We must keep our children safe!!"
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville and Sadie Gurman in Washington, Zeke Miller in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Mark Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Alina Hartounian from Phoenix contributed to this report.