(Bloomberg) -- Democrats left a long, emotionally charged meeting on gun violence with President Donald Trump Wednesday surprised and optimistic that some of their long-sought goals to restrict the availability of firearms might be within reach.
Trump undercut Republican leaders in Congress by praising broader and more stringent background checks for gun buyers while dismissing efforts by House Republicans to tie in National Rifle Association-backed provisions anathema to gun-control advocates that would require states to honor concealed-carry firearms permits issued elsewhere.
“I think you saw the president clearly saying, not once, not twice, not three times, but like 10 times that he wanted to see a strong, universal background check bill," Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said after returning to the Capitol. “So I do not understand how then he could back away from that.”
Republicans remained skeptical that anything more comprehensive than a modest enhancement of the background check system could make it out of Congress.
“It’s easier said than done,” John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said. “The most important message the president gave us is that we have to act and that going home empty-handed is not an option.”
It wasn’t the first time Democrats left a free-wheeling White House meeting praising the president after he seemed to reject Republican orthodoxy. The gathering resembled one Trump held on immigration in early January in which he expressed openness to striking a deal to protect immigrants who’d been brought to the U.S. illegally as children, only to disparage Democrats and reject the prospect of compromise just days later.
Cornyn made the case for narrowly cast legislation that party leaders prefer, which would close gaps in criminal records captured in the existing federal background check system. Trump pushed them to think bigger, incorporating more of the ideas Democratic senators raised in the meeting.
“I’d rather see something comprehensive,” Trump said, encouraging them to come up with “something that’s beautiful.” He said not to worry about achieving the 60-vote threshold to prevent a Senate filibuster because it will be “so easy.”
He rebuffed conservative Republicans in the House, dismissing the proposal from Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third-ranking House Republican, that would require all states to honor concealed-carry firearms permits issued elsewhere as part of any measure on background checks.
“You’ll never get it passed” if that provision is added to gun-control legislation, the president said, telling Scalise that he should “let it be a separate bill.”
Trump, who as a candidate had strong backing from the NRA, the biggest U.S. lobby for gun owners and manufacturers, has said he would like to end the practice of making schools gun-free zones so teachers and other staff members could be armed and trained to confront shooters.
When asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, about the availability of “weapons of war” -- the military-style semiautomatic rifles like the one used in Florida -- Trump, told the group, “you’re going to have to discuss that. You’ll sit down with Dianne and everybody else and you’ll come up with something.”
He ended the gathering by telling lawmakers that he’d rather see legislation that’s too strong than too weak.
Trump has signaled support for raising the legal age to purchase firearms to 21, as well as unspecified action on mental health issues. Late last month, the president told the Justice Department to draft regulations blocking the sale of bump stocks, which let semi-automatic rifles fire more rapidly. Trump said he plans to sign an order to do just that.
When Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained that a piece of legislation he’s sponsored that would require background checks for firearms sales at gun shows or over the internet didn’t include a provision to raise the age limit to 21 for purchase of semi-automatic rifles, Trump interjected “You know why: Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”
“It is a big issue right now,” Trump added. “A lot of people are talking about it. A lot of people are afraid of that issue, raising the age for that weapon to 21.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who wasn’t at the meeting, commended the president’s efforts afterward.
“But the next step is even more important -- despite the huge pressure that will come from the hard right, the president must stick with these principles,” Schumer said.
Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting included a diverse group of lawmakers, including Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who’s been a vocal proponent of gun regulation since the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in his home state in 2012.
Several lawmakers from Florida, the site of the most recent school shooting, were also there. After the meeting, Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed doubt that the comprehensive measure Trump urged was “likely,” noting that even in the meeting there was “hesitation” on raising the age limit for purchase of an assault weapon.
As lawmakers plot their course of action, corporations have begun to respond to the shooting. Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. announced it’s ending sales of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, while raising the minimum age for firearm purchases to 21. Some other companies that offer discounts to NRA members, including Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., have cut ties to the lobbying group after calls for a boycott proliferated on social media.
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.
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