Lawmakers Meet With President Trump To Discuss School Shooting Prevention

Feb 28, 2018
Originally published on March 7, 2018 5:03 pm
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Also at the White House today, President Trump appeared to throw his support behind universal background checks for gun purchasers. The president met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers and urged them to work together in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to act. We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done.

CHANG: Trump also suggested he's willing to break ranks with the NRA on some measures, but he stopped short of endorsing a renewed ban on assault weapons. To explain all of this, NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Hey, Scott.


CHANG: So this sounded like another one of those freewheeling White House meetings where the president lets TV cameras in for a negotiating session with lawmakers. What exactly is his position on background checks now?

HORSLEY: Well, we got a somewhat clearer picture today. He's talking not only about improving the database against which checks are run but also making sure that all gun sales are subject to background checks. Congress looked at doing that after the Sandy Hook massacre five years ago, but the measure failed to get 60 votes in the Senate.

Now, Trump suggested today that former President Obama just hadn't tried hard enough. In fact, former President Obama invested considerable political capital in that unsuccessful effort. But West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who was one of the sponsors of the bill, says Trump may have a weapon Obama did not, and that's his credibility with gun owners.


JOE MANCHIN: Mr. President, the difference is there's not a person in West Virginia that believes that you're not going to defend their Second Amendment rights - not a person. With you taking a lead on something like this, it gives them the comfort.

HORSLEY: And Trump seemed to embrace that role. But, you know, not for the first time, Ailsa, the president tried to make this look easier than it is. He said several times he can't understand why Congress hasn't acted on this already. And Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told the president frankly, I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby.

CHANG: Of course Trump was elected with strong support from the NRA. He had lunch with leaders of the group on Sunday. But then today he hinted that he might be willing to break with the gun lobby on some issues. How is all that going to play out?

HORSLEY: Yeah. After he met with survivors of the Parkland shooting last week, the president had endorsed raising the age limit for buying a rifle to 21. The Florida gunman and was 19 years old.

CHANG: Right.

HORSLEY: But late last week, the president stopped talking about that idea. And people were wondering maybe the NRA got to him because the NRA is opposed to a higher age limit. Today Trump said he would certainly consider a higher age limit for long guns like the one that already exists for handguns.


TRUMP: I can say that the NRA is opposed to it. And I'm a fan of the NRA. I mean, there's no bigger fan. I'm a big fan of the NRA. They want to do - these are great people. These are great patriots. They love our country. But that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything.

CHANG: And the president also brushed aside one of the NRA's big legislative initiatives today.

HORSLEY: He did. The NRA has been pushing a bill that would let anyone who can carry a concealed weapon in one state carry in all 50 states. And Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, who was himself a shooting victim last year, urged the president to add that into the mix. Scalise tried to link that idea to Trump's call for arming schoolteachers. But Trump said no. While he supports the concealed carry measure, he said it's probably a deal-breaker politically.


TRUMP: If you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it passed. Let it be a separate...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When there are other ideas that are being talked about that would pass the House, you know?

TRUMP: Yeah, I don't think, you know - again, you'll never get it passed. So we want to get something done.

HORSLEY: You know, there were a lot of points in this meeting where the president seemed to have no idea about the gun debate that's been raging in this country for years now. But in that moment, he actually sounded like a practical politician who can count votes, including the votes of Democrats. I can't help thinking though, Ailsa - you know, we had a similar meeting a few weeks ago on the subject of immigration where it looked like there was a path to consensus coming out of it.

CHANG: Right.

HORSLEY: And it all blew up afterwards. We'll see if that happens again this time.

CHANG: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.