Trump stuns his party by embracing gun control

US President Donald Trump speaks at an opioid summit in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on Mar 1, 2018.
US President Donald Trump speaks at an opioid summit in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on Mar 1, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Powerful gun lobby starts pushback even as Democrats remain sceptical that proposals will yield real results

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump stunned Republicans on live television by embracing gun control and urging a group of lawmakers to resurrect gun safety legislation that has been opposed for years by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and the vast majority of his party.

In a remarkable bipartisan meeting at the White House on Wednesday, two weeks after a Florida school shooting claimed 17 lives, the President veered wildly from the NRA playbook in front of giddy Democrats and stony-faced Republicans.

He called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the Internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales from some young adults. He even suggested a conversation on an assault weapons ban.

At one point, Mr Trump suggested that law enforcement authorities should have the power to seize guns from mentally ill people or others who could present a danger without first going to court.

"I like taking the guns early," he said, adding: "Take the guns first, go through due process second."

The President's new stance did not immediately yield converts. Most Republican lawmakers insisted that they remained opposed to gun control measures. "We're not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the President talked to today doesn't like them," said Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse.

But at least one Republican, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, said yesterday he would unveil a gun and school safety plan aimed at fortifying schools and preventing gun sales to dangerous or unstable people. He did not provide details.

Democrats, too, said they were sceptical that Mr Trump would follow through. "The White House can now launch a lobbying campaign to get universal background checks passed, as the President promised in this meeting, or they can sit and do nothing," said Democratic Senator for Connecticut Chris Murphy.

ABOUT TIME

We're going to stop this nonsense. It's time.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

NOT SO FAST

While today's meeting made for great TV, the gun control policies discussed would make bad policy that wouldn't keep our children safer.

MS JENNIFER BAKER, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm.

Mr Trump's comments prompted frantic calls from NRA lobbyists to their allies on Capitol Hill and a statement from the group calling Mr Trump's ideas "bad policy".

At the core of his suggestion was the revival of a bipartisan Bill drafted in 2013, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Despite a push by then President Barack Obama and the personal appeals of Sandy Hook parents, it fell to a largely Republican filibuster.

Mr Trump's comments were at odds with his history as a candidate and President who has declared his love for the Second Amendment, on the right to bear arms, and the NRA, which gave his campaign US$30 million (S$40 million).

But at the meeting, the President repeatedly rejected the NRA's top legislative priority, a Bill known as concealed carry reciprocity, which would allow a person with permission to carry a concealed weapon in one state to automatically do so in every state.

To the dismay of Republicans, he dismissed the measure as having no chance at passage in Congress. Republican leaders in the House had paired that NRA priority with a modest measure to improve data reporting to the existing instant background check system.

Mr Trump also insisted that legislation should raise the minimum age for buying rifles to 21 from 18 - an idea the NRA and many Republicans fiercely oppose.

The President appeared eager to challenge the impression that he is bought and paid-for by the gun rights group. He said he told its leaders at a lunch on Sunday: "We're going to stop this nonsense. It's time."

Officials at the powerful gun group were taken aback by Mr Trump's comments and immediately ramped up their lobbying against measures that they have long said would damage the Second Amendment and do little to protect people against gun violence.

"While today's meeting made for great TV, the gun control policies discussed would make bad policy that wouldn't keep our children safer," said Ms Jennifer Baker, a spokesman for the NRA's lobbying arm.

"We are going to continue to work to pass policies that might actually prevent another horrific tragedy."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2018, with the headline 'Trump stuns his party by embracing gun control'. Print Edition | Subscribe