Donald Trump urges Congress to back tougher gun controls

In televised remarks to bipartisan meeting, president says lawmakers are afraid of NRA

US President Donald Trump on February 28 urged a diverse group of lawmakers - some who want more gun restrictions, others averse to gun control - to come up with comprehensive legislation to prevent school shootings.

 

Donald Trump has made his strongest call yet for restrictions on gun sales, urging US lawmakers to take action in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting.

In a televised White House meeting with Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday evening, the US president urged lawmakers to back measures such as expanded background checks for gun buyers, even though they have been opposed for years by some in his party and the National Rifle Association.

“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Mr Trump said at the start of a freewheeling session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers. “We want to stop the problems.”

Mr Trump was holding his fourth gun policy discussion since 17 people were killed in a mass shooting on February 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Teenage survivors of the shooting have added extra momentum to the push for reforms.

Mr Trump accused lawmakers of being afraid of the NRA, which has exercised strong influence over Republican lawmakers in the past and campaigned strongly against any weakening of constitutional protections of gun ownership.

“They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it,” he said.

Mr Trump said he was still a “big” fan of the NRA. “These are great people, these great patriots. They love our country.” But he added: “That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything,” he said.

Citing the absence of big changes to gun laws under previous administrations, Mr Trump sought to portray himself as a bridge-building leader who could bring the two parties together – a promise he made frequently on the campaign trail but has rarely fulfilled.

“It would be so beautiful to have one Bill that everyone could support,” he said. “It’s time that a president stepped up.”

Immigration rerun?

A similarly freewheeling public debate on immigration in January raised hopes that Mr Trump could forge a deal by showing sympathy to Democratic views and persuading Republicans to make concessions. But since then, the two sides in Congress have remained deadlocked.

The US has seen episodes of intense pressure for legislative action on guns before – most notably after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre that killed 26 – only for the moment to dissipate with nothing done.

One sign of a shift in current mood, however, came on Wednesday with two big companies introducing restrictions on their sales. Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of America’s largest sports retailers, decided to stop selling assault-style rifles and to end gun sales to people under the age of 21 after a teenager used an AR-15 to kill 17 people at a high school in the recent Florida shooting.

Walmart also decided to end sales of guns and ammunition to people under 21. The Walmart statement said the company had ended sales of “modern sporting rifles”, including the AR-15, in 2015.

Mr Trump encouraged lawmakers to start with a bipartisan Bill first put forward in 2013 that would expand background check requirements to include gun purchases online and at gun shows. It was brought down by the Republican opposition months after the Sandy Hook shooting.

The president also appeared to back the idea of allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people reported to be dangerous, even without a court order.

“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” he said.

Schumer praise

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, commended the president for wanting to do more than just upgrade the national database used for background checks.

“The president’s comments indicate that he supports universal background checks and even possibly an assault weapons ban. But the next step is even more important – despite the huge pressure that will come from the hard right, the president must stick with these principles,” Mr Schumer said.

“The president must push congressional Republicans to resist the NRA and support these proposals which are endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Americans.”

Republicans in Congress remain divided over how to address gun violence and whether to open debate on improving the background check database for gun buyers.

“I didn’t hear a consensus. I don’t know what the leader [Senator Mitch McConnell] is going to do,” said Senator John Kennedy, speaking after a Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018