Thursday 20 September 2018

Trump stuns Republicans with gun control call

Departing White House communications director Hope Hicks. Photo: Reuters
Departing White House communications director Hope Hicks. Photo: Reuters

Rachael Alexander

President Donald Trump has shocked Republicans by calling for speedy and substantial changes to US gun laws.

And he added to the consternation by attacking lawmakers in a White House meeting for being too afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to take action.

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP

In a free-wheeling, televised session that stretched for an hour on Wednesday, Mr Trump rejected both his 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.

Instead, Mr Trump again voiced his support for expanded background checks.

He endorsed increased school security and mental-health resources and reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for buying some firearms.

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

"We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done," Mr Trump said, adding: "We want to stop the problems."

Mr Trump also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law-enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people's firearms without a court order in order to prevent potential tragedies.

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

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 remains to be seen whether he will continue to push for swift and significant changes to gun laws once he is confronted with the inevitable resistance from within his own party.

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 toward modest legislation designed to improve the background system that is already in place.

Mr Trump made clear that he was looking for more and accused lawmakers of being "petrified" of the gun lobby.

"Hey, I'm the biggest fan of the Second Amendment," Mr Trump said, adding that he had told NRA officials it was time to act. He said: "We have to stop this nonsense."

The White House meeting came amid fresh public debate over gun laws, fuelled by student survivors of the massacre at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The school reopened on Wednesday for the first time since the Valentine's Day ­assault in which 17 students and teachers were killed.

Gun legislation has lost ­momentum in Congress as ­Republican leaders showed ­little interest in pursuing ­stricter gun-control laws.

The White House is expected to reveal more on the president's plans for school safety later this week.

That announcement will likely include goals for background checks and bump stocks, although whether age restrictions will be specifically addressed remains unclear, according to an administration official who sought anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Mr Trump rejected the way that Republican leaders in Congress have framed the debate, saying the House-backed bill linking a background check measure with a bill to expand gun rights by allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines was not the right approach.

Resistance

The 'concealed carry' measure is the gun lobby's top legislative priority. But "you'll never get it passed," Mr Trump told lawmakers, reminding them that Democratic senators, including some in the room, strongly oppose it.

Instead, he suggested that Republicans should focus on the background check bill, then load it up with other gun-control and safety measures.

The hour-long meeting with lawmakers was reminiscent of one in January on immigration, when he told legislators to come up with a good bill and that he would take the "heat" from critics.

That effort, however, ended in failure in Congress, amid Mr Trump's shifting views and priorities in the debate.

Irish Independent

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