President Trump keeps lawmakers guessing at gun meeting

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

President Trump kept lawmakers guessing Wednesday about the extent of new gun legislation he would support and sign into law.

In a televised, bipartisan meeting with members of Congress in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 people dead, Trump put forth a number of policies related to gun control. While he continued to push his plan of arming teachers, he also suggested that law enforcement might preemptively strip suspects of weapons before a crime has been committed. He also claimed he would support a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for firearm purchases and encouraged legislators to get something done.

The meeting had a similiar tone and setting to one held on immigration last month. In that session, Trump initially agreed to a proposal put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to handle a fix for people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as children (known as “Dreamers”) separately and then deal with border security. Hopes of that approach becoming law were quickly dashed when Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., interjected and reminded Trump that Feinstein’s suggestion was not the Republican position. As was promised in Wednesday’s meeting, Trump told legislators he would support any solution on immigration they could agree on, a position the White House retracted later in the process.


Just take the guns

Trump repeatedly suggested guns just be taken from citizens if officials felt they should, even if Americans had not violated any laws.

“The police saw that he was a problem, they didn’t take any guns away,” said Trump about the Parkland shooter. “Now that could have been policing, but they should have taken them away anyway, whether they had the right or not.”

President Trump at a meeting with members of Congress to discuss school and community safety. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Later in the meeting, Vice President Pence attempted to walk those comments back, explaining the process of how states could take steps to confiscate guns from dangerous individuals that would go through the courts and observe due process. He was interrupted by his boss.

“Or Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court,” Trump interjected. “That’s another system.”

“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” the president added.


Rejecting concealed carry

Trump also surprised members of his party by coming out against a top Republican and NRA priority, reciprocity across state lines for gun owners with concealed-carry permits, because it wouldn’t pass the Senate. (The House passed a standalone bill in December.)

After Trump agreed that it would be a good idea to include language from Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested with a wink that Trump hear from Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., on the importance of the concealed-carry reciprocity. After Scalise spoke in support of concealed-carry reciprocity, Trump firmly rejected the idea of including it in a comprehensive bill.

From left, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“You know I’m your biggest fan in the whole word, right?” said Trump. “I think that maybe that bill will someday pass, but it should pass as a separate.”


Manchin, Toomey and Obama

Trump told Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that he hadn’t “heard a lot about their bill” and wanted a summary of it. Manchin-Toomey is the most high-profile gun legislation of this decade. The measure, which proposed strengthening background checks, failed to pass in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. It was supported by President Obama, who called the day the bill fell in the Senate “shameful.”

“You didn’t have a lot of presidential backup,” Trump said Wednesday, referring to his predecessor.

“President Obama did support it,” said Toomey.

“But that was your problem,” said Trump, apparently ignoring Toomey’s reply.


Raising the age limit for purchasing assault rifles

In another odd moment, Trump brought up the potential for raising the age limit on buying assault rifles, refused to commit to signing a bill that did so, then asked for credit for suggesting the idea. Trump pointed out — despite saying his proposal wouldn’t be a popular thing among the NRA — that the age limit on handguns was 21 but you could buy an assault rifle at age 18.

“I think it’s something you have to think about,” Trump told Toomey and Manchin, suggesting they consider raising the age limit in their bill.

“Would you sign it?” asked Feinstein.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Trump, “I’d give it a lot of consideration. I’m the one bringing it up, and a lot of people don’t even want to bring it up because they’re afraid to bring it up.”

Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Deterring school shooters

Trump repeatedly said that if gun-free zones were eliminated, mass shootings would no longer occur because such shooters were “cowards” and didn’t didn’t want to die.

“They’re not going to go in if they think they’re going to come out dead,” said Trump.

A majority of mass shooters kill themselves or are killed by police, including those responsible for the seven most-lethal attacks in United States history.


Black market or local gun store

At the end of the meeting, Trump appeared to not understand that AR-15 assault rifles are widely available for purchase in retail stores. Feinstein closed by asking what the nation could do with “weapons of war.” Trump said it was a black-market issue.

“The problem, Dianne,” said Trump, “is that these aren’t where you walk into a store and buy them.”

“Oh no,” replied Feinstein. “You can go into a store and you can buy an AR-15.”

“You can,” repeated Trump.

“You can buy a TEC-9, you can buy all these weapons,” said Feinstein.

Trump then said it was an issue to be solved by Manchin, Toomey and the rest of the group when they wrote the bill.

President Trump kept lawmakers guessing Wednesday about the extent of new gun legislation he would support and sign into law.


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