‘Red flag’ laws called for but no federal push to raise age
DOJ to create programs to partner schools, law enforcement
Donald Trump isn’t retreating from gun-safety proposals that might cross the NRA, his spokeswoman said Monday after the White House released a package of policies that didn’t include the most ambitious ideas the president has floated to reduce school shootings.
The White House proposals didn’t include raising the legal age to buy some firearms to 21 or allowing guns to be taken from people considered dangerous without a court order, two of Trump’s suggestions in meetings last month.
“He hasn’t backed away from these things at all,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday. “They’re still outlined in the plan. But he can’t make them happen with the broad stroke of a pen.”
The proposals announced Sunday include “things that we know have broad-based support and can immediately get done,” she said. That includes encouraging states to train school personnel to use guns and to adopt “extreme risk protection orders” that would allow weapons to be seized from people considered dangerous with a court’s approval, as the National Rifle Association has insisted.
Many Democrats oppose arming teachers or other school personnel.
The measures endorsed by Trump fall short of expectations, including a call for states to raise the minimum age to buy certain guns. The idea, backed at times by Trump but opposed by the NRA, was endorsed as recently as Sunday morning by White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah.
“The president has been clear that he does support raising the age to 21 for certain firearms,” Shah said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” On a conference call with reporters, two administration officials didn’t explain why that proposal was excluded.
Trump signaled Monday that he doesn’t think Congress would agree to change federal law on the issue.
“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” Trump said on Twitter.
Many advocates of tougher gun laws had hoped Trump would back the age increase as part of the package of measures that the White House said would “secure our schools,” following a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 people dead.
Trump is calling on states to adopt so-called “red flag” laws to allow authorities to take guns from individuals who are determined by a court to be a threat to themselves or others, according to the recommendations.
The Department of Justice has been asked to create programs helping schools to partner with state and local law enforcement authorities that can provide training in gun use. The White House also said it would support moving military veterans and retired law enforcement officers into new careers in education.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was appointed to lead a commission charged with issuing further school safety recommendations. She said the panel would study a “culture of violence.”
DeVos cited bills expanding background checks and funding “evidence-based” training and threat assessment as examples of legislation she said have broad bipartisan support and take “concrete steps.” The commission will examine an age increase to 21 for some gun sales, DeVos said, though she said there won’t be a “one-size-fits-all” solution and it will be up to communities and states to decide if that option is appropriate.
“The president wants to see Congress act now,” she said Monday on Fox News. “Every time we’ve had a situation like this, we’ve had a lot of discussion, then the camps go into their various corners and then we sit around and we don’t get anything done. The president is committed to taking action and ensuring that we do what we can at the federal level to protect kids.”
An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll taken Feb. 26-28 showed 56 percent of those polled disagreed with the proposal for teachers to carry guns. Responses fell along party lines, with Democrats opposed by a wide margin while Republicans agreed with the concept.
“Arming teachers is an absolutely abhorrent response to school shootings -- opposed by law enforcement, students, and educators alike,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement. The White House announcement was “more talk and theatrics than action,” he said.
The proposals were described by the White House on Sunday as the culmination of weeks of meetings the president and senior officials have held since the Feb. 14 Florida shooting. That incident has re-energized the gun control debate, as surviving students at the school quickly organized a social media-based political campaign.
The White House reiterated its support for two pieces of legislation being considered by Congress: the Fix NICS Act, which would penalize federal agencies that fail to report relevant criminal records to the background check system, and the STOP School Violence Act, which would provide new funding for school safety programs. An administration official said the White House was endorsing those measures because they could both pass in short order, while an expansion of background checks would have a tougher path in Congress.
On background checks and other issues, Trump has offered inconsistent positions on gun control since the Parkland massacre, complicating efforts in Congress to pass legislation in response.
Trump voiced support last month for a background check bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, while also suggesting that perhaps the bill didn’t go far enough “because you’re afraid of the NRA.”
The NRA, the powerful gun industry lobbying group that spent $30 million toward Trump’s election, has expressed support for both bills but is resisting more stringent measures.
Trump’s recommendations also fall short of some of the ideas he’d discussed during multiple hour-long meetings in front of news cameras, including a stronger background check system and the suggestion that guns should be taken from people considered dangerous without first seeking a court order.
After the latter statement the president met privately with the NRA, whose leaders said he’d backed down. But Trump is still bucking the group in his support for raising the age for some gun sales: Florida last week passed a bill doing just that, and the NRA immediately challenged it in court.
The Justice Department on Saturday sent a proposed regulation to the Office of Management and Budget that would prohibit the sale of bump stock devices, which modify semiautomatic rifles to allow them to be fired more rapidly, by adding it to the definition of “machine gun” that’s already barred under the National Firearms and Gun Control Act.
Congress is mostly gridlocked on the issue. Neither chamber has advanced legislation to make any change to gun laws since the shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Student-led gun control events in Washington and around the country, dubbed the March For Our Lives, are planned for March 24.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will ask federal agencies to certify within 45 days that they’re in compliance with laws requiring them to make relevant records available to the database used for gun background checks, the Justice Department said in a press release Monday.
Sessions is also calling on state officials to improve the amount and kinds of information they make available to the database, the department said in the statement.
Sessions also directed the FBI to identify states and localities that aren’t adequately reporting arrests to their state databases or that don’t make mental health records available, according to the Justice Department.
Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, which operates Bloomberg News, serves as a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board and is a donor to the group. Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures.
— With assistance by Chris Strohm