President Donald Trump endorsed a number of long-stalled gun control proposals on Wednesday, urging Congress to go big during a remarkable White House meeting with lawmakers from both parties.
Trump said he wants legislation that uses a bill sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to extend background checks to private firearms sales as a starting point. He added that he wants to combine it with measures to address mental health problems and increase the number of people added to a nationwide database used in background checks for gun purchases. He also expressed openness to raising the legal age to purchase certain guns, from 18 to 21.
“I think we’re going to have a vote,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very successful vote, and I will sign it. And I will call whoever you want me to. I like what you’re doing, and I like what you’re doing already.”
Trump made clear he wants guns “immediately” taken out of the hands of dangerous people with mental illnesses. And he promised to use his executive power to ban bump stocks, which increase the speed at which semi-automatic guns can fire.
“You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy. Very strong on mentally ill,” he said. “You have to be very, very strong on that. And don’t worry about bump stock. We’re getting rid of it. You don’t have to complicate the bill by adding another two paragraphs. We’re getting rid of it. I’ll do that myself.”
Trump added, “I’d rather you come down on the strong side than the weak side.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s largest advocacy organization for gun owners, did not immediately comment on Trump’s remarks. But other gun rights advocates wasted no time in unloading on the chief executive.
“He campaigned on supporting the Second Amendment,” said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel at Gun Owners of America. “He has basically just gone over to the anti-gun, Barack Obama side of the gun debate.”
Hammond expressed disappointment that Trump specifically opposed a proposal by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to include language in the bill that would require states to honor conceal carry permits issued by other states. The president said including it could kill the bill.
Hammond said Trump’s response is odd since the reciprocity proposal has more support in Congress than the gun control measures under consideration.
Hammond also questioned whether Wednesday’s confab at the White House was a replay of this month’s debate over immigration. Trump took his supporters by surprise by offering to grant amnesty to 1.8 million young adult illegal immigrants — a number far larger than are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created under Obama.
As he did Wednesday regarding guns, Trump told lawmakers during an immigration meeting that he would sign anything they passed. But legislation never passed because Trump followed up that meeting with insistence on concessions Democrats could not accept.
Second Amendment rights advocates wonder if the same will happen in the coming days over gun control. Trump said he wants a package that would allow teachers to be trained to carry guns in schools. That has drawn fierce opposition from Democrats and some Republicans, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
But Trump won bipartisan praise from lawmakers who participated in the discussion. Manchin told Fox News afterward that he appreciates the president’s support for the bill he and Toomey have sponsored.
“I’m tickled to death, and with his support, both of us protecting the Second Amendment rights, we can move forward,” he said. “And that’s what we intend to do.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) gave Trump a bracelet commemorating victims of the Valentine’s Day school shooting that occurred in his district.
“‘Cause I want this to be the last one of these that we ever have to have,” he said.
Trump told lawmakers he made his views clear to NRA leaders over the weekend. “It’s time. We gotta stop this nonsense,” he said.
Trump suggested to Republican lawmakers that they should not fear blowback for softening opposition to gun restrictions.
“The background checks are so important. People are afraid to do background checks because you’re afraid of somebody. And you know what? You’re going to be more popular if you do background checks,” he said. “If you have a strong [position], good — I don’t care who’s endorsing you or not endorsing you, you’re going to be more popular.”
He added, “I’m not into popularly. I’m into getting something done if it’s good.”
Trump questioned why Congress had not acted after previous mass shootings.
“Why didn’t they do something about it?” he asked.
Trump was less committal on other ideas. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked about “weapons of war,” noting the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle as an example. Trump said Feinstein would have to discuss that with her colleagues.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) urged Congress to pass a law removing restrictions on gun research sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s a key piece. Having facts and scientific data is a key piece in helping us address this national public health issue,” she said.
Trump thanked Murphy for her comments but did not endorse the proposal.