Thursday 18 October 2018

Trump supports better checks on gun owners in wake of shooting

Nikolas Cruz during a brief court appearance yesterday with attorney Melissa McNeil in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Getty Images
Nikolas Cruz during a brief court appearance yesterday with attorney Melissa McNeil in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Riley-Smith

US President Donald Trump is "supportive" of attempts to improve gun background checks, the White House has said in the first sign since the Florida school shooting that he backs changes to the system.

He has talked to a Republican senator who is pushing a bipartisan law aimed at making sure those carrying out the checks have all the relevant information.

A carefully worded statement from the White House said Mr Trump backed the drive in general but fell short of a full-throated endorsement for the proposals.

The legislation is limited in scope, encouraging government agencies to hand over relevant information to those doing the checks but not changing the rules on who can buy a gun.

It comes after criticism of the FBI over its handling of a warning about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspected of killing 17 at a Florida high school last week.

Mr Trump reportedly sounded out members at his Mar-a-Lago club over the weekend about whether he should champion gun control measures after the attack.

It suggests the US president, who has repeatedly rejected calls for more controls, is considering a change in stance.

In November, John Cornyn, the Republican senator, announced a bipartisan bill alongside Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator, aimed at improving the background checks system.

Background

"The president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

"While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system."

The bill was proposed after a man killed 26 people at a Texas church last year, only for it later to emerge that he should have been banned from buying a firearm.

His history of domestic abuse was known by the US air force, his former employer, but had not been passed to those who carry out the gun background checks.

The FBI last week admitted it had failed to act properly over a specific warning about Cruz as a potential gun attacker. Local police had also reportedly received 20 calls about him before the attack.

The senators' proposals, dubbed the Fix Nics Act, focus on the national instant criminal background check system, which is maintained by the FBI.

The database is cross-checked to determine if a prospective gun buyer has a criminal record or is ineligible to purchase a weapon.

The legislation would force state and central government agencies to draft plans for how to better pass on background information to the database.

It would also provide extra money to help improve the reporting of felony and domestic abuse charges.

However, the legislation does not tighten the rules on who can buy a gun.

Cruz returned to court on Monday for a status hearing, and the judge ordered that a defence motion filed last week remain sealed from public view.

Cruz sat during the short hearing in Fort Lauderdale without showing any emotion, his head bowed. The content of the motion filed by his lawyers was not described in the hearing.

Cruz is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder. His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty.

No decision has been made on that.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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