Reuters Washington, DC, USA
Mar 01, 2018, 01.35 AM
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday went his furthest yet toward endorsing restrictions on gun sales, challenging lawmakers to go big on legislation to help prevent more school shootings.
During a freewheeling hour-long discussion, Trump spoke approvingly of several ideas opposed by the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby, which endorsed his 2016 candidacy, including raising the legal age to buy rifles to 21 from 18, and proposals to expand background checks for gun buyers.
"I will sign it," Trump said as he urged the group of lawmakers - some favouring more gun restrictions, others averse to gun control - to avoid tailored attempts to fix holes in gun laws and embrace a comprehensive fix.
Trump had been cautiously considering changes in gun laws since a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, igniting a wave of national student activism in support of firearms restrictions.
The Republican president, long a champion of gun rights, had also been wary of angering voters who oppose curbs on gun ownership, particularly ahead of the November elections in which his party's control of Congress will be at stake.
But Trump said at the televised session on Wednesday: "You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don't be shy."
He added that he told NRA officials during a private luncheon on Sunday: "It's time. We've got to stop this nonsense. It's time."
Trump urged lawmakers not to lose momentum. But the Senate is not expected to bring up any gun legislation this week, and next week's agenda is also unclear.
One bipartisan bill to improve background checks on prospective gun buyers was gaining steam in the Senate. But Trump, Democrats and some other Republicans, are now pushing for broader measures to be added, which could stall progress.
'Going to have to be you'
Seventeen Republican and Democratic senators and representatives were invited to the White House for the fourth such gun policy discussion that Trump has hosted in a week.
Previous roundtables - also open to cameras - included students and parents, law enforcement officials and state governors. The White House is set to present a list of Trump's policy decisions on school safety as early as Thursday.
Trump continued to express support for training and arming certain teachers in schools to protect students in the event of a mass shooting - an idea promoted by the NRA.
Some lawmakers flatly rejected the concept, which Trump previously said should be left up to states and school boards.
But Trump ruled out an NRA-backed proposal from his close ally, Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, who was wounded in a mass shooting at a baseball practice last June.
Scalise said background check legislation should include a measure allowing people to bring legal concealed guns across state lines. The House has already passed a background check bill with that provision, which Democrats oppose.
Trump said he personally agreed with the idea but that it wold sink a comprehensive bill in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
"I think that maybe that bill will someday pass, but it will pass as a separate. If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we're talking about a whole new ball game," he said.
Trump pressed Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on whether he supported raising the age to buy rifles. Toomey said it would hurt young adults who enjoy hunting or target shooting without addressing the issue of mass shootings.
"To deny them their Second Amendment right is not going to make anyone safer," said Toomey, referring to the constitutional rights for Americans to own guns.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told Trump that previous efforts to pass background check bills had been foiled by the NRA, and warned the president against underestimating the group's political clout.
"The reason that nothing's gotten done here is because the gun lobby has had a veto power over any legislation that comes before Congress," Murphy said, pressing Trump to use the power of his office on the issue.
"Mr. President, it's going to have to be you that brings Republicans to the table on this because right now the gun lobby will stop it in its tracks," Murphy said.