Po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity trumps gun prom­ise

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - TOP STORY - By Cather­ine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire

WASHINGTON >> Not two weeks ago Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wagged his fin­ger at a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor and scolded him for be­ing

“afraid of the NRA,” declar­ing that he would stand up to the pow­er­ful gun lobby and fi­nally get re­sults on quelling gun vi­o­lence fol­low­ing last month’s Florida school shoot­ing.

Trump struck a very dif­fer­ent tone Mon­day as he backpedaled from his ear­lier de­mands for sweep­ing re­forms and bowed to Washington re­al­ity. The pres­i­dent, who re­cently ad­vo­cated in­creas­ing the min­i­mum age to pur­chase an as­sault weapon to 21, tweeted that he’s “watch­ing court cases and rul­ings” on the is­sue, adding that there is “not much po­lit­i­cal sup­port (to put it mildly).”

Over the week­end the White House re­leased a lim­ited plan to com­bat school shoot­ings that leaves the ques­tion of arm­ing teach­ers to states and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and sends the age is­sue to a com­mis­sion for re­view. Just two days ear­lier Trump had mocked com­mis­sions as some­thing of a dead end while talk­ing about the opi­oid epi­demic. “We can’t just keep set­ting up blue-rib­bon com­mit­tees,” he said, adding that all they do is “talk, talk, talk.”

Seven­teen peo­ple were killed in last month’s shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., prompt­ing a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about gun laws, fierce ad­vo­cacy for stronger gun con­trol from sur­viv­ing stu­dents and, ini­tially, a move from Trump to buck his al­lies at the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

In a tele­vised meet­ing with law­mak­ers on Feb. 28, Trump praised mem­bers of the gun lobby as “great pa­tri­ots” but de­clared “that doesn’t mean we have to agree on ev­ery­thing. 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 then turned to­ward Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and ques­tioned why pre­vi­ous gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion did not in­clude that pro­vi­sion.

“You know why?” said Trump, an­swer­ing his own ques­tion. “Be­cause you’re afraid of the NRA, right? Ha ha.”

His words rat­tled some Repub­li­cans in Congress and sparked hope among some gun con­trol ad­vo­cates that, un­like af­ter so many pre­vi­ous mass shoot­ings, mean­ing­ful reg­u­la­tions would be en­acted. But Trump ap­peared to fore­shadow his change of heart with a tweet the very next night.

“Good (Great) meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice tonight with the NRA!” the pres­i­dent wrote.

White House aides said Mon­day the pres­i­dent was fo­cus­ing on achiev­able op­tions, af­ter fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion from law­mak­ers on a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach. Trump will back two mod­est pieces of leg­is­la­tion, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion pledged to help states pay for firearms train­ing for teach­ers.

Seem­ingly on the de­fen­sive af­ter his about­face, Trump tweeted Mon­day of the age limit, “States are mak­ing this de­ci­sion. Things are mov­ing rapidly on this, but not much po­lit­i­cal sup­port (to put it mildly).”

Democrats and gun con­trol ad­vo­cates were quick to pounce, with Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., tweet­ing that Trump “couldn’t even sum­mon the po­lit­i­cal courage to pro­pose rais­ing the age limit on firearm pur­chases — de­spite re­peated prom­ises to sup­port such a step at a meet­ing with law­mak­ers.”

Tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity Ger­aldo Rivera — who had urged the pres­i­dent to con­sider tougher age lim­its dur­ing a din­ner at Trump’s Florida club — tweeted that Trump had “blinked in face of fe­ro­cious op­po­si­tion from #NRA.”

Still, Trump ar­gued that this was progress.

“Very strong im­prove­ment and strength­en­ing of back­ground checks will be fully backed by White House,” he tweeted. He added that an ef­fort to bar bump stock de­vices was com­ing and that “Highly trained ex­pert teach­ers will be al­lowed to con­ceal carry, sub­ject to State Law. Armed guards OK, de­ter­rent!”

Without strong ad­vo­cacy from the White House, an am­bi­tious gun pack­age was un­likely to even get off the ground, given most Repub­li­cans’ op­po­si­tion to any new re­stric­tions. The two mea­sures backed by Trump — an ef­fort to strengthen the fed­eral back­ground check sys­tem and an anti-school vi­o­lence grant pro­gram — both en­joy bi­par­ti­san sup­port, though some Repub­li­cans ob­ject and many Democrats say they are in­suf­fi­cient.

Trump drew some Repub­li­can back­ing, with Sen. Or­rin Hatch of Utah, who wrote the school safety bill, tweet­ing he was “grate­ful” for the White House back­ing and call­ing the mea­sure “the best first step we can take” to make stu­dents safer.

No dead­line was set for rec­om­men­da­tions from Trump’s planned com­mis­sion, but of­fi­cials ex­pected them within a year.

Trump con­vened a se­ries of lis­ten­ing ses­sions in the weeks af­ter the mas­sacre. In tele­vised meet­ings with law­mak­ers, school shoot­ing sur­vivors and fam­i­lies of vic­tims, Trump made a case for arm­ing teach­ers and in­creas­ing the age for pur­chas­ing long guns.

“I mean, so they buy a re­volver — a hand­gun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet these other weapons that we talk about … they’re al­lowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?” he told school of­fi­cials last month. “We’re go­ing to work on get­ting the age up to 21 in­stead of 18.”

But Trump has also spo­ken re­peat­edly in re­cent weeks with lead­ers of the NRA, which con­sid­ers in­creas­ing the age of pur­chase to be an at­tack on the Se­cond Amend­ment.

The NRA on Fri­day sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott that bans the pur­chase of firearms by any­one un­der 21.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School shoot­ing sur­vivors speak to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a lis­ten­ing ses­sion at the White House in Washington, Feb. 21. Trump has aban­doned his live-on-tele­vi­sion prom­ise to work for gun con­trol mea­sures that are op­posed by the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

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