Trump Chides GOP Senator for Being ‘Afraid of the NRA’

President signals support for bill raising age limit on assault rifle purchases

President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. He met with lawmakers Wednesday about gun violence and school safety. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would seriously consider signing legislation raising the age limit for assault rifle purchases, and chided a key GOP senator for being “afraid of the NRA.”

He also urged lawmakers who have authored various bills to address school shootings and gun violence to consolidate their ideas in a single bill that he can sign into law.

“This is ridiculous,” Trump said during a meeting on the subject at the White House after reading off a list of deadly school shootings dating several decades. “We got to stop this nonsense — it’s time.”

The president noted there were Democratic members around the long table in the Cabinet Room who have been sharply critical of him. But if they will work with him on a gun violence bill, he said, “I’ll love you, I don’t care.”

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The president again urged the members to “harden” schools by arming and training a select group of teachers and other employees so “bullets are flying back” at mass shooters like Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.

He also called for an overhaul of the federal background checks for gun sales. When Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, pressed for a vote on a bill he is a sponsor of that would update the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Trump interjected.

Watch: Trump Chides GOP Senator for Being ‘Afraid of the NRA’

The president aligned himself with Democrats, telling Cornyn he would prefer for the so-called “Fix NICS bill” to be “more comprehensive.”

Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., told Trump the Senate’s standalone Fix NICS bill could be combined with any background check measure capable of getting 60 votes “if it has your support.”

The House already passed a NICS bill, but Republican leaders married it with an NRA-backed measure that would allow states to honor concealed carry permits issued by other states. Senate Democrats say they will not allow that bill to get to Trump’s desk.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was seriously wounded when a shooter attacked a Republican baseball practice last year, touted the House-passed bill and was immediately swatted down by Trump. “If you add concealed carry to this, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame,” the president said. “You’ll never get it passed.”

Scalise persisted. “They do … increase safety,” he said.

The president suggested a bipartisan measure addressing multiple gun-related issues, including closing some purchasing loopholes, being pushed by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could be the “basis” of a measure that could be amended in the Senate and voted on.

Trump also floated his proposal to raise the age limit for AR-15 assault rifles and similar guns from 18 to 21, something opposed by the NRA. That gun lobby organization is influential in Republican politics.

“I tell you what, I’m going to give it a lot of consideration,” he said when asked by Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., if he would sign a bill establishing a 21-year-old limit for those guns.

When Toomey expressed his opposition to that idea, Trump replied: “You know why, because you are afraid of the NRA.”

“I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby,” one lawmaker said.

The NRA “has power over you people,” but less power over me, Trump said.

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Any gun violence legislation would require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning some Democrats would have to vote for whatever GOP leaders put on the floor.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., laid down a marker of what it would take to get his conference’s support.

Schumer said he met with survivors from the Parkland, Florida, high school on Tuesday and “they told me, every one of them that the Fix NICS bill is not close to enough of what we need to do.”

“It is true the records of NICS need to be fixed, but it’s also true we need to close the gun show loophole,” Schumer said on the floor. “It’s also true that we’ve got to make sure that online sales go through background checks so that felons or those adjudicated mentally ill or spousal abusers, can’t get guns.” He also said, “the priority of this chamber should be to pass universal background checks.”

“I say to President Trump: show some leadership, buck the NRA,” Schumer said. “They’re way out of touch with the American people, with gun owners, and with rank and file Republicans.”

Feinstein said assault-style firearms such as the AR-15 — Cruz’s weapon of choice — should be made illegal. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said changes are needed to require local, state and federal law enforcement entities to better share information about potential school and mass shooters.

If lawmakers combine their various gun-related measures into a bill within the ballpark of the ideas he endorsed on Wednesday, Trump said “I will sign it.”

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