Trump offers full embrace of NRA, leaving Parkland pause behind

President Trump was back to his old self, celebrating the National Rifle Association during its annual convention in Dallas on Friday — leaving his brief flirtation with liberal-approved gun control measures far behind.

This was Trump’s fourth consecutive year (his second as president) addressing the gun lobby’s convention, and he quickly put to rest any doubt among gun rights activists that he might capitulate to politicians who want stricter gun control.

“Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration that is fighting to protect your Second Amendment,” Trump told a receptive crowd. “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege. But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”

Trump, who last year became the first sitting president to address the NRA’s annual convention since Ronald Reagan, said everyone present at the NRA convention was united by the belief that liberty is a gift from God that no government can take away; the men and women of law enforcement should be respected; and that Americans should take pride in their history and heritage.

“We love our country and believe that our citizens deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return. For the last 15 months, that is exactly what we have been doing. We are all finally putting America first,” Trump said.

Throughout his speech, Trump praised the NRA for its patriotism and its dedication to protecting American liberty. It was a far cry from the man who snickered that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., left a proposal to raise the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21 out of a bill on gun reform because he was, in Trump’s words, “afraid of the NRA.”

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

In the weeks and months following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there was concern among Second Amendment advocates that Trump was embracing liberal gun-control policies. The shooting, which left 17 people dead, touched off a nationwide student-run movement for tighter gun control and stricter background checks. Though the students won sympathy from many Americans, Congress was mostly unmoved.

Trump, for his part, offered a number of extemporaneous and contradictory thoughts on gun control measures at the time.

In several uncharacteristic moments during a bipartisan televised meeting with members of Congress on Feb. 28, just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Trump proposed measures to protect Americans from gun violence that more commonly have been suggested by Democrats: raising the age limit for purchasing assault rifles to 21; giving law enforcement the authority to confiscate guns from suspicious citizens even if they have not broken any laws; preventing known domestic abusers from purchasing guns; and rejecting reciprocity for gun owners with concealed-carry permits across state lines.

As the media’s gaze turned away from Parkland, Trump walked back his intention to “stand up” to the gun lobby. In fact, by Friday, Trump had completely embraced the NRA and discarded any hints of his temporary support for stricter gun control. For Trump, this change is not tantamount to complacency. Rather, he maintained, the American people are safer when “the good guys” are armed.

Trump said his administration has pursued an aggressive strategy on community safety to protect “our most valuable resource, our children.” This includes improving early warning systems so that reports of potentially dangerous people to the police result in prompt responses.

“When the community sees the red flags, which the community saw in Parkland all over the place, there’s never been a case where more red flags have been shown, swift action is taken by the authorities,” Trump said.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Trump said he recently signed legislation that includes more than $2 billion to improve school safety, including the funding for training security, installing metal detectors, providing mental health services and improving background checks.

“Mental health is a big one. They don’t like to talk about mental health. Mental health, that was the No. 1 example in Park[land],” Trump said.

Trump said schools should have armed guards and that police should be able to enter the buildings easily when needed. He said school shooters are cowards and will back down if they know guns are inside. He said there’s no sign more inviting to a mass killer than one that declares a school to be a gun-free zone.

“At the same time, there is no stronger deterrent for a sick individual than the knowledge that their attack will end their life and will end in total failure. When they know that, they’re not going in,” Trump said.

In fact, Trump appears to have backed off his calls for stricter gun control just one day after proclaiming them. Both Trump and NRA lobbyist Chris Cox tweeted about a productive meeting they had in the Oval Office on March 1.

On March 12, in a pair of tweets, Trump said he backed improving background checks, but he would not pursue his proposal to raise the minimum age for purchasing an assault rifle from 18 to 21 anytime soon.

The president did, however, follow through on his promise pursue a ban on bump stocks, accessories that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster. Twelve of the rifles that the Las Vegas shooter had in his hotel room were reportedly modified with these attachments.

The NRA has endorsed “additional regulations” on bump stocks, but its spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, has said the organization doesn’t endorse a ban.

On Feb. 20, Trump announced that he had ordered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to draft regulations banning the attachments.

“We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children,” Trump said.

On March 23, Trump announced that the Justice Department would proceed with his plan to outlaw bump stocks, and Sessions released a statement shortly after saying that he had filed the proposed changes.

The proposed bump stock ban’s public comment period extends to June 27. A Reuters analysis of 4,200 public comments of the 17,000 received by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that only 10 favored the bump stock ban, whereas nearly all the others criticized it as unconstitutional and excessive.

Before Trump took the stage on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence laid out the administration’s case that Trump has, in fact, taken great measures to prevent gun violence. He said Trump’s leadership has been “on full display” after the Parkland shooting — starting with a listening session with grieving students and families.

Pence recalled Trump’s words at the time: “It’s not enough to take actions that make us feel like we’re making a difference. We must actually make that difference. And so we have.”

He pointed out that just over one month ago Trump signed the Stop School Violence Act with the strong support of parents of Sandy Hook, Conn., shooting victims, Sandy Hook Promise and the NRA.

“We’re now providing more than $2 billion to help local governments ensure the security of their schools and the safety of our students. It represents the single largest investment in school safety in American history,” Pence said.

He said Trump also signed critical legislation to fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them in the first place and to make sure that people with mental health conditions have access to treatment.

“With the president’s leadership, we’ve joined the NRA to give families and law enforcement the tools they need to stop mass shootings before they happen because we know we can protect public safety and due process at the same time,” Pence said.

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