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Trump: OK to fight with NRA

Profile image for Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly
Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump declared Monday he's willing to take on the National Rifle Association over gun legislation, but Republicans who control Congress aren't so sure. They prefer to consider only modest changes to firearms limits in response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Congress returned to work Monday without following Trump's lead on any of the major initiatives he has tossed into the debate since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Despite public calls for stricter gun laws, Republican leaders have largely kept quiet after the shooting which left 17 dead and ushered in another phase in the gun debate, prompted in large part by the activism of the young survivors. Some students visited with lawmakers Monday.

Over the weekend, Trump spent time talking to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and the White House is inviting lawmakers from both parties for meetings this week. But Trump's ideas to arm many teachers, lift the minimum age for purchasing assault rifles to 21 and impose stricter background checks were falling flat.

"You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA," the president said Monday at a meeting with the nation's governors. "There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK."

Instead, Senate Republicans are hoping to consider more modest legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun.

Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, questioned Trump's proposal to raise the age limit for assault weapons, noting that the minimum age to enlist in the military is 18.

"I'm not sure I understand the 21 age. I think there are better ways to address it than just an arbitrary age increase," he told The Washington Times.

Trump insisted Monday that sometimes political leaders need to buck the NRA, which builds its political power by major campaign spending and motivating gun rights supporters to vote. Though he did not mention increasing the minimum age for rifle purchases, he wants to toughen the Cornyn bill with stricter background checks, a change the NRA has opposed.

"We're going to strengthen it," Trump said. "We're going to make it more pertinent to what we're discussing."

Democrats have long pressed for more sweeping changes toward a universal background check system, including requiring inquiries for online and gun show purchases.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Monday that if all Congress can accomplish is passage of the "Fix NICS" bill "it would be an abject failure and a dereliction of our duty."