Trump and NRA Warm to Each Other Again After His Riffs Over Guns

(Bloomberg) -- The National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist signaled after an Oval Office meeting late Thursday that President Donald Trump may be backpedaling from his support of gun-control measures in the wake of a Florida school shooting.

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s political and lobbying arm, indicated on Twitter after the meeting that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence oppose additional firearms restrictions.

“I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people,” Cox wrote. “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”

The meeting with Cox marked the latest twist in the administration’s effort to respond to the massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school last month that left 17 people dead. It suggested that Trump may be shifting position again in a gun-safety debate that has been deadlocked for years, despite mass shootings in Nevada, Texas, Connecticut and other states.

On Wednesday, the president signaled his support for some gun-control measures during an emotionally charged White House meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers. He stunned both sides by endorsing steps that are opposed by the NRA -- including raising the age limit for purchasing some firearms.

Trump even contradicted Pence on measures to seize firearms from those deemed mentally ill or dangerous by saying he wants to "take the guns first, go through due process second."

While Trump suggested at that meeting that ideas in a background-check proposal by Senators Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat, could be the backbone of a comprehensive measure, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said Friday that he’s not “fully onboard” with it. She told Fox News that he won’t weigh in again on contents of legislation he would sign until he sees what lawmakers produce.

"Until it gets in its final form, we aren’t going to weigh in," she said.

Sanders told reporters Friday that Trump continues to support improving background checks but not necessarily universal background checks, and that while he conceptually supports raising the age for purchase of automatic weapons to 21 from 18, “he also knows there’s not a lot of broad support for that."

‘Great Meeting’

The NRA has come under intense public pressure since the Feb. 14 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Companies including Symantec Corp., Hertz Global Holdings Inc., Avis Budget Group Inc. and MetLife Inc. have cut marketing or other ties to the group.

Trump commented on his meeting Thursday with the NRA’s Cox on Twitter: “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”

During Wednesday’s meeting with the lawmakers, Trump called for comprehensive legislation to expand background checks, raise the age limit for buying some firearms and keep the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. That gave Democrats on Thursday some momentum to renew their calls for those measures.

Even so, just the week before, Trump offered a full-throated endorsement of the NRA one day after a White House meeting in which survivors of the Parkland shooting and parents of children killed in other school shootings had urged him to to toughen gun laws. Others at the meeting suggested that teachers should be armed, a point of view that the president supported.

‘Don’t Know’

The back and forth by Trump over the response to the killings in Parkland has left some lawmakers from his own party unsure about where the president is heading with the administration’s policy.

“On immigration and the gun stuff, sometimes you don’t know where he’s going to end up. You don’t know if it’ll be the Tuesday Trump or the Thursday Trump,” said Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, an occasional critic of the president who is retiring after 2018. “People are concerned about that.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Friday that Trump “should go with his instincts, not the clarion and destructive call of the NRA.” Supporting stricter gun control measures is “the right thing to do both substantively, because it will save tens of thousands of lives, and politically because over three quarters of the American people support it. If he continues to bow to his right wing ringmasters, we will get nothing done on guns and his presidency will continue to fail.”

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