President Donald Trump said Monday that he’s willing to take on the National Rifle Association though he doubts they will resist his response to the high school massacre that killed 17 people in Florida earlier this month.
Trump, in a freewheeling discussion with governors at the White House that lasted more than an hour, also said he would have run into the school unarmed to try to confront the attacker, contrasting his hypothetical response with sheriff’s deputies who didn’t enter the building during the rampage.
The president’s evolving responses to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, have been largely consistent with the outlook of the NRA, particularly an emphasis Trump has put on arming school teachers. The organization has been a strong political ally of the president, spending $31 million in the 2016 election either to support Trump or attack his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Don’t worry about the NRA, they’re on our side,” Trump said during the meeting with state governors, adding that he had lunch over the weekend with NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre and top lobbyist Chris Cox. “But sometimes we’re going to have to be very tough and we’re going to have to fight them.”
Businesses are rushing to cut ties to the NRA. Among the companies that severed deals with the NRA: Avis Budget Group Inc., Best Western International Inc., Chubb Ltd., Delta Air Lines Inc., MetLife Inc., Symantec Corp. and United Continental Holdings Inc. Others are under intense social media pressure to follow.
Trump suggested the country also should make it easier to involuntarily commit people to psychiatric institutions and open more such facilities.
“In the old days you’d put him in a mental institution, a lot of them, and you could nab somebody like this,” Trump said, referring to the accused Florida shooter, Nikolas Cruz. “Hopefully he gets help or whatever, but he’s off the streets.”
“We’re going to have to start talking about mental institutions,” Trump said, complaining that states had closed too many “because of cost.”
Trump reiterated disparaging comments about the armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school who didn’t enter the school while the shooting was taking place, saying he “choked” under the pressure of the situation. He also referenced a CNN report that several other armed sheriff’s deputies who were among the first officers to arrive at the school didn’t initially enter.
"I really believe, you don’t know until you’re tested, but I think I’d, I really believe I’d run in even if I didn’t have a weapon,” Trump said.
Monday’s meeting at the White House was a wide-ranging discussion of ideas to address gun violence at schools. Suggestions ranged from a possibly new rating system for violent videos to arming teachers to filling schools with smoke during an attack to make it harder for a shooter to find targets.
Trump has called for changes in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland high school. He has voiced support for expanding the background check system to include more mental health information, raising the age for the purchase of some guns to 21 from 18, and regulatory action ending the sale of “bump stocks.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders injected a bit of uncertainty on the president’s backing for raising age limits, saying the president is “supportive of the concept” but the idea is “still being discussed” and the president’s position will depend on the final form of legislation.
Trump has signaled support for a bipartisan bill from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, known as Fix-NICS. It would penalize federal agencies that fail to report relevant criminal records that would bar someone from purchasing a firearm under current law to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Trump told the governors the administration is “going to strengthen” the measure.
The background checks legislation stalled in a Senate committee, but elements of it passed in the House, paired with a requirement opposed by gun-control advocates that every state recognize licenses to carry a concealed handgun issued by other states. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the concealed carry law is the group’s top priority but the NRA would support the background check bill even without the added provision.
The House is waiting for the Senate to act, according to a senior Republican aide. Senate leaders haven’t indicated plans for considering the legislation.
Trump has been most vocal about a controversial proposal to allow some “talented” teachers to carry concealed firearms in schools. He has indicated that state governments might take the lead. Trump says “hardening” the schools would make them less attractive targets for a potential assailant.
“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump posted on Twitter last week. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”
Trump on Monday reiterated his call for states to move forward without federal action.
“States can do most of this and we’ll back you up,” Trump said. “We’ll help you no matter what your solution is,” adding “my attitude is get it done and get it done properly.”
The White House is also considering the idea of using restraining orders to take firearms away from people considered dangerous as part of its response to the Parkland shooting, two people familiar with the matter said.
Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington, endorsed such an approach, saying his state has had success with so-called extreme risk protection orders. Inslee, though, pushed back on Trump’s idea of arming people at schools. “Educators should educate,” he said, adding that law enforcement and teachers do not support such a move.
“Let’s just take that off the table and move forward,” Inslee said. “I would suggest we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott unveiled a proposal last week to raise the age requirement for purchasing semiautomatic rifles to 21, and allow some guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed mentally unstable by a judge.
Scott has said he’s opposed to arming teachers, but supports increasing the number of law enforcement officials in schools. State legislators in Florida are considering proposals to allow for some school officials to be trained to carry concealed weapons. At the White House meeting on Monday, Scott also noted that students will be able to get more mental health counseling and he aims to have threat assessments in schools.
The Parkland massacre has “created momentum to make sure that something happens this time,” Scott said.
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.