Strong words on guns give way to reality
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.
On Monday, Trump struck a very different tone 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, Florida, 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-Pennsylvania, 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.”
Toomey had a ready response after the president’s tweet Monday: “It’s quite obvious that I’m the guy that stood up to the NRA,” he said. Asked if Trump was afraid of the NRA, Toomey said, “I don’t know what’s driving his decision.”
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 about-face, Trump tweeted Monday of the age limit that “States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”
The White House insisted that Trump remained committed to more significant changes even if they are delayed.
“We can’t just write things down and make them law. We actually have to follow a process,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“Right now the president’s primary focus is pushing through things we know that have broad bipartisan support.”
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pa. Weeks after prodding lawmakers to stand up to the National Rifle Association, Trump is backing off his call for increasing the minimum age to buy an assault weapon — an idea strongly opposed by the NRA.