Sunday 16 December 2018

Trump blames lack of 'support' for shelving rise in rifle age limit

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pupils at a memorial after the shooting. Photo: Reuters
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pupils at a memorial after the shooting. Photo: Reuters

Ben Riley-Smith in Washington

Donald Trump has blamed a lack of "political support" after he backed off raising the minimum age for buying a rifle amid opposition from the National Rifle Association.

The US president initially called for the minimum age to be increased from 18 to 21 in the wake of the Florida school shooting, saying he was willing to defy the gun lobby over the issue.

However, the idea was left off a list of policy proposals announced by White House officials, with the change instead to be debated by a new federal commission on gun safety.

The White House will also help states in training teachers to use guns, support better background checks and ban "bump stock" devices that turn firearms into machine guns.

Mr Trump tweeted yesterday: "On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly)."

New gun controls have been fiercely debated in Washington after 17 people were killed in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month.

Much of the focus has been on why the age limit for buying the gun used in the attack, an AR-15 rifle, is 18 but the limit for a handgun is 21. Nikolas Cruz, the suspected shooter, is 19.

Mr Trump initially supported the move, chastising members of congress for not backing the policy during a round-table meeting with figures from both parties in the White House.

"Some of you are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified. They have great power over you people...they have less power over me," Mr Trump had said.

The meeting, which was captured by television cameras, saw the president express interest in a number of gun control measures, which stunned Republicans.

Days later, Mr Trump had a closed-door meeting with the NRA, which opposes raising the minimum age for buying an automatic rifle.

Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's lobbying arm, said after the meeting that Mr Trump and Mike Pence, the vice-president, "don't want gun control".

Mr Trump said the meeting had been "great".

The massacre reignited a fierce gun debate in the United States, and Mr Trump stunned members of Congress during White House meetings by endorsing proposals long opposed by his fellow Republicans and accusing lawmakers of being afraid of the NRA.

However, the measures proposed by the White House on Sunday night were weaker than some of the more sweeping changes Mr Trump had embraced during his televised meetings on the issue.

Mr Trump backs legislation aimed at providing more data for the background check system: a database of people who are not legally allowed to buy guns.

But he did not endorse a broader proposal that would close loopholes in existing law by requiring background checks for guns bought at gun shows or arranged over the internet.

It was not clear how quickly Congress would move on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not scheduled debate for any gun-related bills.

Asked why the age limit proposal was dropped from the administration plan, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told NBC's 'Today' show yesterday that the plan was the first step in a lengthy process.

"Everything is on the table," she said.

Democrats are clamouring for much broader gun control legislation, including closing loopholes in background checks law.

Irish Independent

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