A bipartisan legislative effort to ban the rapid-fire devices last year fizzled out
Washington: As a grieving Florida community demanded action on guns, President Donald Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. It was a small sign of movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.
“We must do more to protect our children,” Trump said, adding that his administration was working hard to respond to the shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.
After past mass killings yielded little action on tighter gun controls, the White House is trying to demonstrate that it is taking the issue seriously. The president, a strong and vocal supporter of gun rights, has not endorsed more robust changes sought by gun control activists. But the White House cast the president in recent days as having been swayed by the school shooting in Florida and willing to listen to proposals.
In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump indicated he wants to strengthen the background check system, but offered no specifics.
Trump said: “Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!”
Asked at a press briefing Tuesday if Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House officials “haven’t closed the door on any front.” She also said that the idea of raising the age limit to buy an AR-15 was “on the table for us to discuss.”
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading advocate for tighter gun controls, said Trump’s directive suggested the president was aware of fresh energy on the issue and called it a sign that “for the first time” politicians are “scared of the political consequences of inaction on guns.”
A bipartisan legislative effort to ban bump stocks last year fizzled out. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced in December that it was reviewing whether weapons using bump stocks should be considered illegal machine guns under federal law.
Under the Obama administration, the ATF had concluded that bump stocks did not violate federal law. But the acting director of the ATF told lawmakers in December that the ATF and Justice Department would not have initiated the review if a ban “wasn’t a possibility at the end.”
The Justice Department had not made any announcement regarding its review when Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum directing the agency to complete the review as soon as possible and propose a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”
Reacting to Trump’s memo, the department said in a statement that it “understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process. We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed.”
A day earlier, Trump sent another signal he had been swayed by the Parkland shooting and the dramatic calls for action in its aftermath. A White House statement said Trump was looking at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks. On Wednesday, he will host parents, teachers and students at the White House for a “listening session” that will include people impacted by mass shootings in Parkland, Columbine, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
The president was moved by a visit Friday with Florida victims in the hospital and is trying to work on solutions, said a person familiar with his thinking who sought anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
Among the steps sought by gun control advocates: closing loopholes that permit loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows, banning assault-type weapons and to passing laws to enable family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.
The Parkland shooting also has prompted the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to take a fresh look at gun control legislation, although so far GOP leaders are refusing to endorse calls to ban assault rifles. Still, the discussion of some types of gun control legislation is a dramatic turnaround for Florida, which has earned the nickname the ‘Gunshine State’ for its gun policies.
The federal background check bill was developed in response to a mass shooting last November in which a gunman slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church. It would penalise federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The measure, which is pending in the Senate, was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Centre database.
The GOP-controlled House paired the background checks bill with a measure making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines. The concealed carry measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons.
Murphy said any attempt to combine background checks with concealed-carry provisions would significantly jeopardise the chances of passing bipartisan reform of the background checks system.
Trump ‘supportive’ of tougher gun law, but his record suggests that may not mean much
WASHINGTON The deadly school shooting in Florida has moved President Trump to call for a ban on devices that turn legal firearms into deadly automatic assault rifles. But some gun control supporters expressed scepticism: He has promised action before in response to a mass killing, only to drop it when Americans’ attention wanes.
Trump’s foray into policy talks is being met with scepticism based on his track record in office, his fluid stances on gun control and his close relationship with the National Rifle Assn. He backed an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period for gun purchases in 2000, writing about it in one of his books, and then reversed that stance when he built a presidential campaign on an absolutist pro-gun interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.
Trump’s idea to ban bump stocks is not a new one. After the Las Vegas mass shooting in October, he signaled a willingness to discuss regulating or banning the kits that allow people — like the shooter in that case, who fired down on a crowd from his hotel suite — to make their legal semi-automatic rifles operate like illegal, rapid-fire automatic weapons. The administration later clarified that any crackdown should be regulatory, not statutory. That stance is shared by the NRA, which opposes any new gun control laws.
The result is that nothing happened, and the country moved on. Thus did the reaction to the Vegas massacre, the nation’s worst mass murder in modern times, follow a familiar pattern of years of gun control debates: Gun rights advocates stalled serious policy discussion after the tragedy by saying it was too soon to think of anything but the victims, yet as time passed so did the impetus for action.
“They’ll give a generic comment on how the president supports changes,” said Corey Ciorciari, director of policy at the progressive organisation Democracy Forward, speaking of White House aides. “And that allows them to avoid scrutiny while people are talking about it. And then after people move on, you never hear another thing about it.”
For a long time before his 2016 campaign, Trump branded himself as a nonpartisan moderate on the issue of gun control. In 2000 he wrote that he generally opposed gun control but that he was OK with certain restrictions, and he attacked Republicans for their pro-NRA rigidity.
“The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions,” he wrote in his book ‘The America We Deserve’. “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”
Trump held that point of view until he began gearing up for his run for the presidency. As social conservatives flocked to his rallies, he turned increasingly hard-line in opposing any limitations on gun ownership.
In the White House, he has acted in keeping with that posture. His appointees have quietly chipped away at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal system that stores consult to make sure buyers are eligible to purchase guns.
The administration officials narrowed a few legal definitions to make it harder to classify would-be gun buyers as ineligible. The FBI used to consider people “fugitives from justice” if there were outstanding warrants for their arrest, but now they must also have fled across state lines to intentionally avoid prosecution to be disqualified.
Trump officials also purged tens of thousands of law enforcement records from the background system.
They narrowed the definition of mentally ill. And Congress and Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that required the Social Security Administration to send records of people receiving benefits for mental illness for inclusion in the background check system. In his recently released budget for the coming fiscal year, Trump proposed slashing millions of dollars from the budget for the background check system.
After the lone gunman opened fire on a concert crowd in Las Vegas on October 1, the president appeared to waver for a moment in his view against gun controls. The gunman had attached bump stocks to his semiautomatic firearms, thereby turning them into machine guns that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more, and Trump hinted to reporters that he might support a proposed ban.
“We’ll be looking at that in the next short period of time,” he said.
The public moved on, though, and so did the conversation. Trump did not prod Congress to act.
Following the Parkland shooting, Trump once again is signalling that he is thinking things over. Two days after the massacre, which coincided with Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, he and First Lady Melania Trump visited the hospital trauma center where many of the victims and the suspect were treated. A doctor told the New York Times that he observed a parent of one of the wounded teenagers urging Trump to make sure this kind of tragedy never unfolded again.
“We’re going to work on it,” the president told the parent, according to the doctor.