President Donald Trump shocked his Republican allies in Congress on Wednesday when he said during a televised meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the White House Cabinet Room that lawmakers must support raising the age limit and confiscating guns from people deemed mentally ill, along with a host of other gun-control measures that would be anathema to most Republicans.
During the meeting, Trump said he supports a Democratic proposal to use the Toomey-Manchin gun control proposal as a base bill and build on top of it. Meanwhile, lawmakers should consider a sweeping expansion of concealed-carry protections as part of a separate package. He also said an assault-weapons ban should be considered, to the visible delight of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, according to the Hill.
During the meeting, Trump said “it doesn’t make sense” that an 18-year-old can buy an assault rifle capable of killing dozens, but must wait until they’re 21 to purchase a hand gun.
However, after the meeting, several lawmakers told reporters that they wouldn’t support Trump’s demands to “go big” on gun control.
Even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has recently expressed support for raising the age limit to 21, said he wouldn’t support the Manchin-Toomey proposal, which would also help close the so-called “gun show loophole”.
“I haven’t voted for it in the past, I’m not inclined to vote for it now,” Rubio told reporters after the meeting. He also noted that the shooters in recent mass killings did not buy their weapons at gun shows or from unlicensed dealers and wouldn’t have been stopped if Toomey-Manchin had been law.
Rubio said “we’re better off” prosecuting straw purchasers who attempt to evade gun laws already on the books or tightening the current background-check system with the Fix NICS bill.
However, some Republicans questioned Trump’s sincerity and expressed doubts that Trump fully understands the Toomey-Manchin proposal. They predicted he would change his mind on comprehensive background checks.
While Trump argued in favor of a more expansive gun-control bill, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, who is leading the GOP response to gun violence in the upper chamber, told reporters after the meeting that he still favors “a limited approach.”
Cornyn wants to advance a bill that he co-authored with Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and introduced late last year after the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in US history. It would give state and local officials more incentive to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System known as NICS. Reporting failures have played a role in several recent mass shootings, including a shooting at a Texas church late last year that left more than two dozen people dead.
“For me the most obvious place to start is the Fix NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] bill that has 46 cosponsors,” Cornyn said of the bill he’s co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.).
When it comes to raising the age limit on assault-rifle purchases, GOP senators said the bill would never garner enough votes to pass both the Senate and the House. Some senators even walked back their support of the age-limit increase.
GOP leaders at lunchtime Wednesday said that raising the age threshold wouldn’t have enough votes to pass.
“There aren’t the votes there for that,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Hill.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who over the weekend indicated support for raising the age for buying rifles, on Tuesday walked back his earlier statement.
But Cornyn poured cold water on the idea of moving a comprehensive bill, cautioning it’s “easier said than done.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), another member of the GOP leadership, said, “if you actually tried to put a comprehensive bill together and take a bill to the floor that was comprehensive, you’d probably wind up with no result.”
He said the Fix NICS bill “has the biggest chance to get 60 votes.”
Meanwhile, Pat Toomey argued that Trump’s words had given the bill he wrote with West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III new life.
“It does feel as though the atmosphere has changed. It does feel to me as though there are members who were not willing to do something in the past that might be willing now,” he said. “I know for a fact that there are individual senators who have voted against Manchin-Toomey who have told me they are reconsidering.”
But even some Democrats – who welcomed Trump’s declaration of support for a more comprehensive bill – were skeptical that such a bill could pass.
But even Democrats were skeptical that Trump would follow up his bold talk on Wednesday with action.
Murphy, a champion of universal background checks, said he is “not highly confident.”
“The White House can now launch a lobbying campaign to get universal background checks passed as the president promised in this meeting or they can sit and do nothing. We’ll see,” he said.
Yesterday, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart Stores said they would act independently to curb assault-rifle sales, with Dick’s saying it would permanently ban sales of AR-15s and similar military-style rifles (they said something similar after the Newtown masacre, but quietly reintroduced the guns once the public scrutiny had subsided). And Wal-Mart said it would only sell assault rifles to adults who are at least 21 years of age.