US President Donald Trump has told a group of lawmakers not to be so “petrified” of the powerful gun lobby the National Rifle Association (NRA).
In a break from his party’s stance on gun control, President Trump urged lawmakers to come up with a comprehensive bill on gun reform.
He suggested expanding background checks for gun buyers and raising the legal age to buy rifles to 21 from 18.
He held the meeting in the wake of a school shooting that left 17 dead.
Mr Trump’s change of tack on gun control has taken many lawmakers and commentators by surprise. The New York Times said the president had “stunned lawmakers”, while CNN reported that Republicans were “a bit unsettled” by his remarks.
The Republican party supports the right of individuals to own guns, seeing most restrictions as an infringement of the second amendment to the US constitution.
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“They have great power over you people,” the president said of the NRA to his fellow Republicans on Wednesday. “They have less power over me.”
“Some of you are petrified of the NRA,” he added during the televised bipartisan summit on gun safety.
During the meeting, the president seemed to back:
- an expansion of background checks before people can buy guns
- allowing police to confiscate guns from people thought to be dangerous, without a court order
- raising the minimum age for buying assault rifles from 18 to 21
- arming teachers
Mr Trump’s statements on gun control have changed before – in the 1990s and early 2000s he expressed support for a ban on so-called assault weapons, but as he approached the nomination of the Republican party as its candidate for presidency, he fell more within the fold of the party’s views.
He was endorsed by the NRA in his 2016 presidential campaign.
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He met NRA leaders over the weekend after speaking to students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where an alleged gunman used an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people two weeks ago.
Wednesday’s meeting came as students at the Florida school returned to classes.
“You won’t have to worry about bump stocks,” he said. Earlier this month the president signed an order pushing for a ban on bump stocks, which can enable rifles to shoot hundreds of rounds per minute.
Seventeen Democrats and Republicans, some who want more gun restrictions and others who are against it, were invited by the president to the hour-long summit about potential ways to address school safety.
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“It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody can support, as opposed to – you know – 15 bills, everybody’s got their own bill,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday.
We’ve seen this film before
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington
The man who suggested that if his opponent had been elected “you’d be handing in your rifles” endorsed taking guns away from people of questionable mental fitness and worrying about due process later.
The man who received $30m in support from the National Rifle Association during his presidential campaign scorned Washington politicians for being afraid of the NRA and said it had “less power” over him.
After a bipartisan meeting with congressional legislators, Donald Trump left heads spinning. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, a fierce gun-control advocate, clapped in joy, while some gun-rights Republicans wondered whose side the president was on.
“We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse said.
Of course, we’ve seen this film before. In a January meeting with a similar group of congressional leaders, Mr Trump expressed support for any comprehensive bipartisan agreement on immigration. In the following days and weeks, his administration did everything it could to undermine the most popular compromise bill.
Gun-control supporters may feel they made progress in Wednesday’s White House meeting, but the NRA surely will have another chance at the president’s ear.
Mr Trump also accused Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin, who have worked on a bill to strengthen background checks for gun purchases, of being too “afraid” to stand up to the NRA.
Mr Toomey’s spokesman Steve Kelly said in a statement the senator “has not received a dime from the NRA since joining the Senate.
He also suggested the alleged Florida gunman, who police say raised several red flags before the tragedy struck, should have had his guns taken away, regardless of law.
“I think they should have taken them away, whether they had the right or not,” the president said.
He added: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Many Republican lawmakers later distanced themselves from Mr Trump’s comments.
“We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason,” said Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who was not at the meeting.
“We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them.”
Mr Trump also warned lawmakers against proposing a bill that included concealed carry reciprocity among states, a provision Republicans and the NRA have aimed to include in any gun legislation.
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Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre occurred, told the president that previous efforts to pass bills requiring strong background checks have been met with opposition because of the NRA.
“The reason that nothing’s gotten done here is because the gun lobby has had a veto power over any legislation that comes before Congress,” Mr Murphy said.
Mr Trump deflected the warning and said he had previously told NRA officials: “It’s time. We’ve got to stop this nonsense. It’s time.”