Sunday 20 January 2019

Donald Trump: Legislators too fearful of NRA to take action on guns

Legislation has lost momentum in Congress as Republican leaders show little interest in pursuing stricter gun controls.

President Donald Trump (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

By Lisa Mascaro, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey

Donald Trump has called for speedy and substantial changes to US gun laws and criticised legislators for being too fearful of the National Rifle Association to take action.

In a freewheeling, televised White House session that stretched for an hour, the president rejected his own party’s incremental approach and its legislative strategy that has stalled action in Congress.

Giving hope to Democrats, he said he favoured a “comprehensive” approach to addressing violence like the shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month, although he offered no specific details.

Mr Trump again voiced his support for expanded background checks, endorsed increased school security and mental health resources, and reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for purchasing some firearms.

He also mentioned arming teachers, and said his administration, not Congress, would use an executive order to ban bump-stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons.

“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Mr Trump said as he opened the session with 17 House and Senate legislators. “We want to stop the problems.”

He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that police should be able to confiscate firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies.

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

Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House with Mike Pence, Chris Murphy, John Cornyn, Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The president has previously backed ideas popular with Democrats, only to back away when faced with opposition from his conservative base and his Republican allies in Congress.

It was not clear whether he would continue to push for swift and significant changes to gun laws, when confronted with the inevitable resistance from his party.

Still, the televised discussion allowed him to play the role of potential deal-maker, a favourite for the president.

We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done. We want to stop the problems Donald Trump

Democratic legislators made a point of appealing to the president to use his political power to persuade his party to take action. “It is going to have to be you,” senator Chris Murphy told him.

Mr Trump’s call for stronger background checks, which are popular among Americans, has been resisted by Republicans in Congress and the NRA. Republicans have instead been leaning towards modest legislation designed to improve the background system.

Mr Trump made clear he was looking for more and accused legislators of being “petrified” of the gun lobby.

“Hey, I’m the biggest fan of the Second Amendment,” he said, adding that he told NRA officials it is time to act. “We have to stop this nonsense.”

Gun legislation has lost momentum in Congress as Republican leaders showed little interest in pursuing stricter controls.

Democrats said they were concerned Mr Trump’s interest may fade quickly. After the meeting, Mr Murphy told reporters: “I’m worried that this was the beginning and the end of the president’s advocacy on this issue.

“The White House has to put some meat on the bones. The White House has to send a proposal to Congress.”

Press Association

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