A meeting the President had on guns with members of Congress at the White House yesterday has left Democrats optimistic and Republican flummoxed, on what, if any legislative fixes Congress can pass to address gun violence. The President flouted Republican orthodoxy on the subject and encouraged lawmakers to be ambitious in their goals for gun-control.
Outcry from parents, students and local lawmakers has caused Congress to try to implement legislation that would help cut down on gun violence in the wake of the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month.
The President held an emotional listening session at the White House last week, with Americans whose lives have been shattered by gun violence. “I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families. So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down. We must keep our children safe!!” the President wrote on Twitter afterwards.
Despite the public outcry however, Congress has tried to keep expectations low on what, if any, legislation can be passed, focusing their attention on bills that strengthen the country’s background check system, for example, rather than expand it.
That calculus seems to have changed yesterday though, when the President called for, among other things, expanded background checks, raising the eligibility age for assault weapons purchases, and also called on Republicans to forgo gun-rights provisions that could lessen the likelihood of legislation passing.
In a startling move, the President indicated support for expanding background checks to all firearm purchases including those that take place at gun shows and over the internet, something that has been anathema to congressional Republicans and gun-rights groups such as the NRA.
“You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy,” Trump said during the meeting. “I’d rather have you come down on the strong side than the weak side. The weak side is easier to do.”
He also called on Republican lawmakers to leave the so-called “reciprocity” gun provision out of any legislation. A conceal carry reciprocity bill requires all fifty states to honor concealed handgun permits, similar to the way driver’s licenses are honored. Only thirty-two states currently honor cross-state permits.
“Steve, I do think this — you know I’m your biggest fan in the whole world, though, right? I think that maybe that bill will someday pass, but it should pass as a separate. If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame,” the President said to Rep. Steve Scalise, himself a victim of a recent mass shooting, and one of the sponsors of the CCR bill, making the moment all the more remarkable.
“You’ll never get this passed. If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed. Let it be a separate thing,” the President said.
Republicans walking out of the meeting weren’t sure what to believe. “My takeaway is that we like to start with background checks and build from there and see where we can get consensus,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican John Cornyn said. Adding that the meeting was “surreal” and “fascinating television.”
Democrats seemed to take the President’s statements at face value and vowed to follow through on the proposals the he indicated support for. “I don’t know how much clearer he could have been and the whole country can watch it,” Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said.
Still some Republican lawmakers are skeptical as to whether comprehensive legislation can actually pass. Senator Marco Rubio, whose home state of Florida is where the Parkland shooting took place said, “I think that’s ideal if you could do it all at once. I just don’t think it’s likely to pass knowing this place.”
Others cautioned that the President had better follow through on a comprehensive bill and not back of strong bipartisan legislation on guns, the same way he did on immigration. “If we don’t do it this time, then this will get old. If the President has another one of these sessions and he doesn’t follow through — it’s going to hurt him. It’s going to hurt the Republican Party,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said.