White House Leaves Higher Age for AR-15 Buys to States

Trump will use federal funds for teacher training, endorses two bills

Washington, D.C., area students and supporters protest against gun violence outside the White House on Feb. 19 after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file phtoo)
Washington, D.C., area students and supporters protest against gun violence outside the White House on Feb. 19 after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file phtoo)
Posted March 11, 2018 at 7:45pm

The White House on Sunday unveiled its demands for any legislation designed to prevent additional gun massacres at the country’s schools, and they exclude President Donald Trump’s endorsement of a new age restriction on assault rifles. He also wants Congress to send him two bills pronto.

The administration’s priorities list also includes using federal dollars to give “interested” teachers firearms training and the creation of a blue-ribbon commission, the kind of which Trump has mocked in the past.

The National Rifle Association, which staunchly supported Trump’s 2016 campaign and is influential in Republican politics, opposes several gun control proposals the president has floated in recent weeks. Notably, the White House’s actions and asks of Congress likely will not upset the powerful gun group — even though Trump recently chided a GOP senator on national television for being “afraid of the NRA.”

The president has met with senior NRA officials several times in recent weeks as his staff and the organization’s leaders have tried to move him away from agreement with Democrats in the wake of a deadly Florida high school shooting on Valentine’s Day. One of those issues is Trump’s public demand that Congress pass a bill that would raise the age at which individuals could buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21.

[Analysis: Trump Follows His Gut on Tariffs and Kim Summit]

A senior administration official poured cold water on the age-raising proposal despite Trump’s recent advocacy, saying the White House wants “everything to be impactful and not just checking a box.”

The priorities list that officials briefed reporters on Sunday evening excludes that idea, a big win for the NRA and Republicans. An AR-15 assault rifle was used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz at the Parkland, Florida, shooting on Feb. 14 that left 17 students and teachers dead — some as young as 14.

“I tell you what, I’m going to give it a lot of consideration,” the president told lawmakers about raising the purchasing age to 21 during a bipartisan White House meeting on Feb. 28 about guns that saw him frustrate Republicans and NRA leaders by siding with Democrats on many issues.

Watch: After Parkland, A Look at Previous Gun Control Efforts in Congress

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Next steps

But the White House does want Congress to act, officials said Sunday.

The first bill Trump wants to sign into law is one being pushed by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut that would would enforce existing law related to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Last Friday, its number of co-sponsors cleared the chamber’s crucial 60-vote threshold. On Friday, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told Roll Call the administration wants Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule votes on the Cornyn-Murphy legislation; he has yet to do so.

The second is a measure that would provide federal grant funding for a list of things, including training for teachers to identify threats, technology such as door locks, and threat assessments, according to Andrew Bremberg, Trump’s Domestic Policy Council director. The House is slated to vote on a version of this bill on Wednesday.

The blue-ribbon commission will be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will consider, as she put it in the Sunday call with reporters, “evidence-based solutions” that can be shared with school systems across the country. Trump has in the past mocked such panels, saying they are ineffective at producing change.

There is no deadline by which the DeVos-led group must complete its work and issue recommendations, the Education secretary said. “We need to focus on prevention and identifying risks early on,” she said, stressing a need for school officials to be “transparent” with “mental health services.”

The White House is calling on states to follow Florida’s lead and pass “risk-protection orders” that would allow courts to order law enforcement to seize firearms of individuals deemed a threat.

Trump is also ordering the Justice Department to use existing funding to help school systems get qualified teachers and staff firearms training, according to Bremberg. The training order is something “capable of happening today,” a senior administration official said. “So we’re working with the Department of Justice on the amount of help we can provide schools with,” the official said, though he was unable to provide a figure for how much the DOJ program will cost.

On the call, the senior officials repeatedly stressed that many of the steps the administration has identified as possible ingredients to preventing additional school gun massacres will have to be implemented at the state and local levels.

It was during that same remarkable Feb. 28 session, which Trump insisted be carried live on cable news networks, that the president also urged lawmakers who have authored various bills to address school shootings and gun violence to consolidate their ideas in a single bill that he can sign into law.

[White House Wavers on Kim Summit]

So far, however, they have not done so. The House is slated to take up their bill this week that would establish a federal grant program for schools to implement threat assessment protocols — a measure Democrats say is insufficient. But the Senate has yet to consider a guns or school safety bill and none is on McConnell’s docket.

Some differences

But the White House wish list is not a complete win for the NRA and congressional Republicans. For instance, Trump broke with the group and his party by not including on his list the idea of changing existing law to require states to recognize permits that allow individuals to carry concealed weapons with permits issued by other states. (He also dismissed the idea as politically toxic on Feb. 28; Senate Democrats hate the idea, meaning a House-passed bill that would do just that likely will not see the president’s desk.)

The list is also a reflection of how Trump regularly takes stances that are out of line with traditional GOP orthodoxy or that put him in agreement with the Democrats he so often criticizes, only to be walked back to Republican territory by his staff when his White House produces actual policy orders or plans. It was a similar story on immigration

In the two weeks following the Parkland massacre, the president appeared eager — bordering on impatient — for lawmakers to get something to his desk to help prevent future school gun massacres.

“This is ridiculous,” Trump said during the Feb.28 meeting after reading off a list of deadly school shootings dating several decades. “We got to stop this nonsense — it’s time.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a statement that Trump’s plan represented “tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA, when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken.”

“Democrats in the Senate will push to go further including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons,” the New York Democrat said.