The White House appeared to soften its tone on gun-control measures Friday after President Trump met privately with officials from the National Rifle Association the night before.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House is still deliberating on what type of proposals it will support in the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed. She said Trump still supports raising the age limit to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21 but added that he understands there is “not a lot of broad support” for such a proposal.
“I think he thinks it would probably have more potential in the states than it would at the federal level,” Sanders told reporters at the White House. On background checks, she said Trump does not necessarily support universal background checks “but certainly improving the background check system. He wants to see what that legislation, the final piece of it looks like. 'Universal' means something different to a lot of people.”
Trump tweeted Thursday evening about the meeting, which was not listed on his public schedule.
Friday capped a week of conflicting signals from Trump and the White House on what the president wants to do in response to the shootings in Florida, which has led to confusion over what policies he wants Congress to advance. Trump shocked lawmakers from both parties Wednesday during an hour-long televised meeting at the White House in which he voiced support for far stricter gun-control measures than most Republicans appear willing to support. At one point, he accused lawmakers of being “scared of the NRA.” Trump also has said he wants to arm some teachers and school staff with weapons to help fight back against perpetrators.
Sanders sought to downplay the idea Trump has not been consistent about what he wants.
She reiterated that Trump supports a bill from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would require federal and state agencies to report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Trump called Cornyn on Thursday to reiterate his support for that bill, according to a person familiar with the call.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) challenged Trump to “go with his instincts, not the clarion and destructive call of the NRA.”
Schumer added that Trump “knows instinctively that this 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.”
But Murphy praised Trump for engaging in the debate and entertaining ideas that have traditionally been taboo for most Republicans.
Asked whether Trump made any promises to the NRA officials during their meeting, Sanders replied: “Only that he'll continue to support the Second Amendment. That's not something that he's backed away from.”
NRA Executive Director Chris Cox, who attended the meeting, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.
Sanders said Trump believes that raising age limits to buy guns would have “more potential in the states than it would at the federal level.”
And she said Trump will continue to talk with lawmakers. “He wants to help move the ball down the field, so he's going to keep having calls with a number of different members on how we can do that,” Sanders said.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.