WASHINGTON–President Donald Trump, facing pressure from victims of school shootings to curtail access to guns, signaled Thursday that he would be willing to challenge the National Rifle Association and back some proposals that the powerful group opposes.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said at a briefing Thursday that the president doesn’t “expect to agree with the NRA on every single issue.”
“As the president tweeted this morning, we think they’re interested in what’s right,” Shah said. “It’s going to be part of an ongoing conversation: their stakeholders along with family members, students, parents, teachers who the president heard from yesterday, local officials who he talked to today. So he’s gonna get opinions from a lot of folks and he’s going to come to, you know, the right steps that are necessary.”
Shah also said the president would be willing to provide assurances for Republican lawmakers who the National Rifle Association might target in primary elections by funding more pro-gun Republicans to run against them.
“He is going to want support from Democrats and Republicans,” Shah said of the president. “He is going to provide political cover for those who are willing to take leadership roles.”
After meeting with families impacted by shootings at schools like Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mr. Trump tweeted that he planned to push for “comprehensive background checks,” an end to the sale of bump stocks, and for federal changes that would raise the minimum age people can buy rifles to 21.
While the National Rifle Association has signaled the group could accept some form of the first two changes, the group has pointedly come out against raising the age for buying rifles. The differences pit Trump, whom the National Rifle Association has strongly supported, up against the deep-pocketed gun lobby that for years has successfully convinced Republicans to shy away from stricter gun control measures.
Shah added that Trump spoke with Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, over the weekend and that the president wants to find solutions to school shootings.
“The president is proposing ideas. He’s listening right now. He’s been talking about a series of ideas,” Shah said. “I wouldn’t say that we are or aren’t going to propose something that is as specific as legislative language, but he is going to come forward later on with something a little bit more concrete.”
On Thursday, Trump did offer one concrete proposal. He said he thinks arming hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country who have experience handling guns could help thwart school shootings.
“I think a concealed permit for teachers and letting people know there are people in the building with a gun, you won’t have, in my opinion you won’t have these shootings,” Trump said. “Because these people are cowards. They’re not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns. It may be 10 percent, it may be 40 percent.”
Trump also said would want to reward teachers who carry guns. “Now what I’d recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus, we give them a little bit of a bonus, because frankly they’d feel more comfortable having the gun anyway,” he said.
The president added that he didn’t think he would be “going up against” the National Rifle Association, which has backed having more people with guns protecting schools. He told reporters that those at the NRA “love this country” and want to “do the right thing.”
But the National Rifle Association ratcheted up its rhetoric around making too many changes to gun laws around the country in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people using an AR-15 last week.
NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, said many in the media “love mass shootings” because “crying white mothers are ratings gold.”
NRA chief Wayne LaPierre also addressed the group of conservatives and took aim at people pointing to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as evidence that change is needed. While he didn’t directly criticize Trump, the two could soon find themselves at odds.
“Opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” LaPierre said. “Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of the family, the failure of America’s school systems and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI.”