President Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House on Monday that “we're going to do very strong background checks” for gun buyers and that his administration is “getting rid” of bump stocks, but conspicuously absent from Trump's remarks was any mention of raising the minimum purchasing age for rifles to 21.
The president last week endorsed a higher age requirement as part of a trio of gun-control measures and said Saturday night on Fox News that “it doesn't seem to make sense that you have to wait until you're 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this maniac used in the school [in Parkland, Fla.], you get that at 18. I mean that doesn't make sense, and, frankly, I explained that to the NRA.”
At Monday's news briefing, CBS's Margaret Brennan noted that Trump had not said anything similar to the governors earlier in the day and asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the president still wants to raise the age limit.
“Something's still being discussed, but a final determination and legislative piece has not been determined on that front yet,” Sanders replied.
That's not a strong yes.
“Is he reconsidering how that should be implemented?” Brennan followed up.
“In terms of the concept, there's still support for that,” Sanders answered. “But how it would be implemented and what that might look like is still very much part of the discussion.”
Fox Business's Blake Burman said the president's position, as stated by Sanders, “feels like a little bit of a downgrade.” Burman pointed out that Trump ate lunch with National Rifle Association officials on Sunday, and he asked whether the NRA had influenced the president.
“I don't think it's at all a downgrade,” Sanders said. “I think we're talking specifically about implementation and what this process would look like, what specific pieces of legislation might look like. And we haven't seen those yet, so it would be premature for us to weigh in. But, as I said, the president is still supportive of the concept.
“To try to pretend like he's being influenced by any one group would be ridiculous,” she added, “considering the number of individuals he's met with that come from both the far left to the far right and a lot of those in between.”
The Daily Mail's Francesca Chambers remarked that “it does sound like there's a softening of the stance from the president between what we heard last week and what we're hearing now today. Is the president firmly committed to [raising the age limit], if he can see it in a legislative form?”
“Again, we haven't seen the legislation in form yet,” Sanders said, “and so we're not going to speak to potential legislation that doesn't exist that may have a lot of different, nuanced language. In concept, the president still supports it, but in terms of legislation, we'd need to see what that looks like before we'd weigh in further.”
Sanders's claim that the White House needs to see a bill before weighing in might make sense if it were not inconsistent with something she said earlier in the briefing.
“On bump stocks,” she said, “the president did sign an executive memo directing the ATF and Department of Justice to work on outlawing bump stocks, so we don't have to wait for a legislative fix. However, if we cannot find an administrative fix, we would support a legislative solution to complete that.”
So, Trump is in favor of legislation to ban bump stocks, even though he has not seen such a bill, yet he is “not going to speak to potential legislation that doesn't exist” when it comes to raising the purchasing age to 21.
What we're seeing here is a White House presenting excuses, in advance, for Trump to reverse himself on increasing the age limit for purchases of assault rifles. The future spin is easy to see coming. The White House is setting itself up to say that the president supported the concept of a higher age limit but ultimately rejected a concrete proposal because of the way the change would have been implemented.