WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to pull together a comprehensive gun bill based on a background check measure opposed by most Republicans and the National Rifle Association at an unusual televised White House meeting Wednesday.
Surprising Republicans and Democrats in the Cabinet Room to discuss school safety, Trump told them he wanted a very strong background check bill but opposed adding an NRA-backed measure to require all states to honor any state’s concealed-carry permits.
“We have to act. We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Trump said as he opened the discussion two weeks after 17 students and adults were shot and killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school. “We’re determined to turn our grief into action.”
Trump listed his priorities as hardening school security, arming some teachers, raising the rifle-buying age to 21, addressing violence in entertainment, and spotting and helping dangerous mentally ill people — and taking their guns.
Trump said he would provide the leadership to get something done. He said he would use executive authority to outlaw bump stocks, used to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a faster-firing weapon in the shooting at a Las Vegas concert, and would sign school safety legislation into law.
“It’s time that a president stepped up, and we haven’t had them,” Trump said. “Some of you are petrified of the NRA.”
But Trump said he had lunch with the gun lobby’s leaders over the weekend and told them, “It’s time. We’ve got to stop this nonsense.”
Democrats urged him on.
“It’s going to have to be you to bring Republicans to the table on this because right now the gun lobby would stop it in its tracks,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told him. Murphy has promoted a gun-control bill since the 2012 massacre of 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But after the meeting, 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.”
The White House will announce more details on his proposal later this week.
Early on, Trump brushed aside a bill Republicans support to offer incentives for officials to file already required reports to the FBI’s background check system, telling its sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that it’s good “but maybe we could make it much more comprehensive.”
Instead, Trump seized on a bill as the base legislation that would extend background checks to sales at gun shows, online and within states sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that failed to get the 60 votes needed in 2013.
“If you use that as a base, you could add some of the things that will be said in the room, or you may not want to,” Trump said, even though the Toomey-Manchin room was voted against by four of the Republican senators in the room.
Trump said he would look at a proposal to ban certain semiautomatic weapons sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and look at adding a measure by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to include domestic violence against women by boyfriends as part of a comprehensive bill.
But Trump told Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) that the reciprocal concealed carry measure should not be part of it. “You’ll never get it passed,” Trump told Scalise. “Let it be a separate bill.”
After Toomey said his bill on background checks did not include raising the age to 21 to buy a rifle or semiautomatic weapon, Trump said, “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “The president’s comments indicate that he supports universal background checks and even possibly an assault weapons ban. But the next step is even more important — despite the huge pressure that will come from the hard right, the president must stick with these principles.”