President Donald Trump had one overriding message Monday on guns: Trust me.
He told a bipartisan group of governors at the White House that he’d have “run in” to stop the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who killed 17 people with an assault rifle.
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He said he’d personally eliminate bump stocks, the accessory that helped another shooter mow down scores of people at a country music festival in Las Vegas last year. “I don’t care if Congress does it or not, I’m writing it out myself, okay?” Trump said.
And he insisted, for the second time, that he would get the National Rifle Association on board with his various proposals. “Don’t worry about the NRA. They’re on our side,” Trump told the governors during a gathering in the Roosevelt Room on Monday. “You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
In the 10 days since the Florida shooting, the president has injected himself into the national gun debate, engaging on the issue personally in a way he hasn’t on any other since taking office—even inviting students critical of his policies to a televised White House listening session last week.
But Trump might find the limits of his bravado when he meets Wednesday with lawmakers for the first time since the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting.
In his meeting with governors, Trump disclosed that he’d met with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and top official Chris Cox a day earlier, saying they “are doing what they think is right” after this month’s shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and staffers were killed.
Trump said he emphasized the need to strengthen background checks during his lunch meeting with LaPierre, Cox and other NRA officials. The NRA supports a bill that would make changes to bolster the background checks system, but the legislation is stalled in the Senate because it also would expand Americans’ ability to carry concealed weapons.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Sunday’s meeting as “very productive,” casting the NRA as supportive of White House efforts to improve school safety.
Despite Trump’s tough talk, there’s little light between the administration’s policy ideas and the NRA’s position. On Monday, the president called for keeping guns out of the hands of “sickos” and suggested establishing more institutions to house people with mental health problems. He promised that he was “writing out” bump stocks, accessories that allow guns to fire faster, called for “very strong” background checks, and endorsed arming school teachers.
The White House is short on details, but conceptually all of those ideas align with NRA positions. The biggest division between the Trump and the gun-rights group is on the minimum age for gun purchases. The suspect in the Parkland school shooting, Nikolas Cruz, 19, legally bought an AR-15 about a year ago.
“It should all be at 21,” Trump said Friday. “And the NRA will back it.”
The NRA is in fact against that idea. “Raising the age is not going to solve psychosis,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch told CNN on Friday. And the group is battling Florida lawmakers over their own proposal to increase the minimum age to buy guns.
Sanders said the president still backs a higher minimum age for gun purchases, but that the subject is under discussion. “Everybody is in agreement that things need to be done and we have to have changes to take place to do what we can to protect America’s kids,” Sanders said at Monday’s press briefing. “Members of the NRA want to be part of that discussion.”
In the Senate, the president’s freewheeling remarks on tougher background checks prompted a crowing statement from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.).
“We can’t afford a bill that is simply aimed at pleasing the NRA but doesn’t get the job done. We need real results,” Schumer said, calling for “universal background check legislation” that is strongly opposed by the NRA.
Sanders later clarified Trump’s language on tougher background checks, saying he would back a bill from Senators John Cornyn, (R-Texas), and Chris Murphy, (D-Conn.), which would penalize government entities for failing to report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“I do know that he supports the Cornyn legislation and that would be something the administration could get behind,” Sanders said at the Monday press briefing.
Cornyn and Murphy haven’t been invited to attend Wednesday’s meeting at the White House, according to Senate aides. The White House did not respond to questions about who would participate in the event.
Meanwhile, Trump trumpeted his own support for gun rights and the NRA — whose leaders he has called “great American patriots” —while addressing state leaders Monday.
“There’s no bigger fan of the Second Amendment than me,” Trump said, “and there’s no bigger fan of the NRA, and these guys are great patriots.”
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