WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has abandoned his live-on-television promise to work for gun control measures that are opposed by the National Rifle Association, instead bowing to the gun group and embracing its agenda of armed teachers and incremental improvements to the existing background check system.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has abandoned his live-on-television promise to work for gun control measures that are opposed by the National Rifle Association, instead bowing to the gun group and embracing its agenda of armed teachers and incremental improvements to the existing background check system.
After the Florida high school massacre last month, Trump explicitly called for raising the age limit to purchase rifles and backed 2013 legislation for near-universal background checks. He chided Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., who helped write that background check legislation, accusing him of rejecting the higher age limit “because you’re afraid of the NRA.” Trump later told lawmakers that while the NRA has “great power over you people, they have less power over me.”
But on Monday, it was the president who seemed to knuckle under, again dramatizing the sway that the NRA still maintains in Republican circles.
Students around the country might be massing for a march on Washington on March 24. The victims and survivors of school shootings from Connecticut to Florida may be pushing their states to move on gun control.
But from Capitol Hill to the White House, the NRA still calls the shots.
“To no one’s surprise, the president’s words of support for stronger gun safety laws proved to be hollow,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “Responding to the murder of 17 students and educators by endorsing the gun lobby’s platform is a shameful abdication of the president’s responsibility to lead. Shame on you, Mr. President.”
Trump cited a lack of political support for raising the age limit to purchase rifles, which is not evident in public opinion polls but is very much evident in his party. He said that his administration was studying the issue and suggested thatstates should decide whether to prohibit people under 21 from buying the kind of assault weapon used by the gunman who rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
But without referencing an Oval Office meeting he had with NRA officials this month, the president acknowledged the group’s lobbying successes.
“Not much political support (to put it mildly),” Trump said of the higher age limit in a tweet, adding that his administration will watch court rulings before it acts. (He did not mention that it is the NRA that is precipitating such court rulings by suing the state of Florida over its new gun purchasing age.)
The president’s retreat is a stark reminder — if anyone in Washington needed one — that the gun debate remains stuck where it has been for more than a decade. Despite scores of deaths from mass shootings in that time, Republican lawmakers fear the NRA’s ability to stir up opposition in their districts. They continue to oppose new gun restrictions, and even a Republican president with an unconventional approach is unlikely to challenge the status quo in an election year.
“I think it is a really disappointing retreat after all the reality-show rhetoric,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in an interview Monday. Blumenthal, who represents the state where 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said the president “has taken his plan from the NRA playbook.”
In the face of NRA opposition, the president has also retreated from his earlier openness to expanded background checks and a renewal of the expired ban on assault weapons — positions that he signaled during a remarkable meeting with lawmakers in which he demanded “comprehensive” legislation that would include long-standing Democratic efforts to restrict firearms.
Instead, Trump over the weekend released a modest plan that eschewed gun control measures in favor of more limited bills that would provide weapons training for teachers and create a commission to study other responses to school shootings.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Monday that the president still supported the idea of raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles, but was only committing to studying the issue because “you can’t just decide you want laws to pass.”
Feinstein, who has long pushed for a ban on assault weapons, had looked giddy at the president’s meeting with lawmakers when Trump seemed open to new legislation to restrict the sale of the weapons. On Monday, she accused the president of having “completely caved to the gun lobby.”
The idea of arming teachers is vigorously opposed by many members of both parties, law enforcement officials and groups representing the nation’s teachers. But it has been pushed for years by the NRA, which argues that arming school officials is the best way to protect students and teachers against a well-armed attacker. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” the NRA mantra has gone.
The White House on Sunday proposed creating the Federal Commission on School Safety, which would study the question of raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles. That proposal came just a day after Trump himself mocked the idea of federal commissions as ineffective. “We can’t just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees,” Trump said during a political rally Saturday. The president said that members of such commissions do little more than “talk, talk, talk” and then, “two hours later, then they write a report.”
On Capitol Hill, the energy has largely dissipated for the kind of expansive gun control legislation that Trump appeared to support earlier this month. With such legislation stalled, Republican leaders are instead turning their attention toward less contentious measures that would beef up security at the nation’s schools.
The only gun-related measure that appears to stand a chance of passage this year is the Fix NICS Act, a narrow NRA-backed bill that would improve data reporting to the national background check database. The House has already passed it, as part of a broader bill that includes one of the NRA’s highest priorities: a sharp expansion of the right to carry concealed weapons almost anywhere in the country.
The Senate’s chief sponsor of Fix NICS, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said in an interview last week that he had not spoken to the NRA about it. He sees the bill as a way to bridge the partisan divide, though critics note that it would only enforce existing law.
“It really to me is simple,” Cornyn said.

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