WASHINGTON — President Trump proposed confiscating guns from those thought to be potentially dangerous first and adjudicating later at a White House roundtable with congressional Democrats and Republicans to discuss what gun legislation could pass both chambers.
Attendees included Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), staunch gun-control advocates since the Sandy Hook school massacre, and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Trump was flanked by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who introduced a bill to fix parts of the background check system after the Sutherland Springs church mass shooting in his state, and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has long tried to revive the assault weapons ban.
Trump assured lawmakers that they didn’t need to worry about banning bump stocks because he’d sign an executive order and “shortly that’ll be gone.”
He told Cornyn that the Texas senator’s bill “has some really good things in it, but it would be nice if we could add everything on to it.”
“And maybe you change the title, all right? The U.S. Background Check Bill, or whatever. But your bill is really good, and really important, having to do with a certain aspect. But maybe we could make it much more comprehensive, and have one bill, instead of 15 different bills that nobody knows what’s happening,” he said.
“If we can get 60 votes for it, Mr. President, I’m all for it,” Cornyn replied.
Feinstein said she would be “most honored” if Trump took a lot at her latest assault weapons ban legislation; Trump thanked her and vowed to review the bill. Later in the meeting, after Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pitched language on keeping domestic abusers from getting guns, Trump said, “If you can add that to this bill, that would be great. Dianne, if you could add what you have also.”
Murphy lobbied Trump on universal background checks. “But Mr. President, it’s going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this,” the Connecticut Dem said. “Because right now, the gun lobby would stop it in its tracks.”
“I like that responsibility, Chris. I really do,” Trump replied. “I think it’s time. It’s time that a president stepped up, and we haven’t had them — and I’m talking Democrat and Republican presidents. They have not stepped up.”
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) pitched the president on their background check bill that failed in 2013. “There’s not a person in West Virginia that believes that you’re not going to defend their Second Amendment rights — not a person. With you taking a lead on something like this, it gives them the comfort that something reasonable” will be enacted, Manchin said.
“Maybe, too, that bill, if we use that as a base, you could add some of the things that are going to be said in the room, or you may not want to,” Trump said. “…I think it would be a very positive thing, in terms of background checks.”
Trump said he wanted to see crackdowns on gun ownership among the mentally ill. “The police saw that he was problem, they didn’t take any guns away,” he said of Parkland, Fla., shooter Nikolas Cruz. “Now that could have been policing. I think they should have taken them away anyway, whether they had the right on not… Now a lot of people are saying, oh I shouldn’t be saying that. I tell you what, I don’t want mentally ill people to be having guns.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) warned Trump to be cautious on mental health, “because there’s a lot of people that have mental health issues that are not dangerous to themselves or to others.”
Trump again promoted raising the age to buy long guns from 18 to 21. “You are going to decide, the people in this room pretty much, you’re going to decide,” he said. “But, I would give very serious thought to it.”
When House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) promoted concealed carry reciprocity between states, as “these are people who are well trained, and who actually go out there and help prevent crimes,” Trump told Scalise to save it for another bill because “if you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed.”
As Trump was talking about how easy it would be to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate with this gun bill being cobbled together, Murphy interjected, “I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby.”
“They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it,” Trump replied, talking about his lunch with NRA leaders last weekend. “…Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified. They want to do what’s right, and they’re going to do what’s right. I really believe that. I think it was a very good lunch.”
Vice President Mike Pence talked about gun violence restraining orders to give local law enforcement “additional tools if an individual is reported to be a potential danger to themselves or other.”
“Allow due process, so that no one’s rights are trampled, but the ability to go to court, obtain an order, and then collect not only the firearms, but any weapons in the possession of that individual,” Pence said.
“Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump interjected. “Because that’s another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures — I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida, he had a lot of firearms. They saw everything — to go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”
After the meeting, the NRA fired back in a statement that the meeting “made for great TV” but “the gun control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe.”
“Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told The Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was jazzed that Trump might support “even possibly an assault weapons ban,” but “despite the huge pressure that will come from the hard right, the president must stick with these principles.”
“The president must push congressional Republicans to resist the NRA and support these proposals which are endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Americans,” Schumer said.