President Trump said Wednesday he favors taking guns away from people who might commit violence before going through legal due process in the courts, one of many startling comments he made in a rambling White House meeting designed to hash out school safety legislation with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
“I like taking guns away early,” Trump said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Trump also said some of his fellow Republicans were “petrified” of the NRA, called on lawmakers to produce a “comprehensive” gun bill, and squelched prospects for a GOP-backed concealed carry proposal as part of a broader gun package.
“We must harden our schools against attack,” Trump said while also calling for other steps to end the “senseless violence” that has claimed lives in classrooms, nightclubs and workplaces across the country.
“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Trump said two weeks after a mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Trump said he wants “one terrific bill” that can address better background checks, arming qualified teachers and school officials, increasing the age limit for certain gun purchases, and finding new ways to keep guns away from mentally ill people and others who should not have them.
All of these ideas have drawn objections from either gun-control or gun-rights interest groups, and from key lawmakers in Congress, including some of Trump’s guests at the White House.
While some Republicans objected to new age limits and some Democrats questioned the wisdom of arming teachers, all pledged to work with Trump to try and get something done.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken proponent of gun control since the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in his state, told Trump that “the gun lobby has had a veto power” over gun legislation, and that the president himself will have to work to overcome their opposition this time around.
“I like that responsibility,” Trump told Murphy. “I really do.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who backs a bill to improve the national instant background check system, said Congress should not go home “empty-handed” in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“The public demands that we act,” Cornyn said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, said Tuesday that the Republican majority would focus on law enforcement failures, not tighter gun control. He faulted “a colossal breakdown in the system” for the Parkland shooting, including repeated warnings about the assailant that were not followed up on by the FBI and local authorities.
Law enforcement and education organizations have opposed arming teachers, saying it would be counterproductive and actually increase the chances of violence.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., echoed those concerns at the White House meeting, telling Trump there are “great differences of opinion” about whether “having teachers armed with guns firing at a mass shooter is the answer. I don’t think it is. Many others don’t.”
No guns for mentally ill
At another point, Trump said he doesn’t want “mentally ill people to be having guns,” but some lawmakers said that policy could be drawn too broadly.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told Trump that many people may with mental illnesses “are not a danger,” and should not be discriminated against.
Trump’s call to raise the legal age for purchase of some guns from 18 to 21 has drawn opposition from the NRA, which spent about $30 million on his behalf during the 2016 election. The NRA and other groups say raising the age would deprive young people of their constitutional right to own firearms.
NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the organization supports improvements to the mental health system, improvements to the existing instant background check system, and efforts to keep “dangerously mentally ill” people from having firearms, but with due process for those who are wrongly accused.
At the White House meeting, Trump said he has spoken with NRA leaders and told them that “we’ve got to do something.” He accused some lawmakers of being “petrified” of the NRA, and that they can and should act despite its opposition.
Murphy disputed Trump’s optimism, telling the president, “I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby.”
Other Democrats have raised similar questions about the GOP-led Congress, citing Republican reliance on campaign contributions from the NRA and other gun-rights groups.
“The gun lobby is so powerful here and members of Congress, invertebrates that so many of them are, are not willing to stand up to it,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on a conference call with reporters.
In a pre-meeting public letter, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and other Democrats urged Trump to explicitly endorse a bill closing loopholes that allow unchecked purchases on the Internet and at gun shows.
“We stand ready and eager to work with you to find common ground and close these dangerous loopholes,” said the letter also signed by Murphy and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.