Washington – The White House on Monday reiterated its backing for a gun purchaser background check bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy, but President Donald Trump backed away from his support of more comprehensive gun laws.

Trump’s new gun policy, a reaction to the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., three weeks ago, also directed the  Justice Department to provide grants to help state and local law enforcement provide firearms training to school personnel and encourage the transitioning of military veterans and retired law enforcement officers into new careers in education.

The idea of arming teachers has been rejected by the state’s largest teachers’ union – and by national education organizations.

“Asking teachers to be armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention legislation is madness,” said Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen.

The Trump administration also said it is calling on every state to adopt “red flag”  laws establishing “extreme risk protection orders” that allow courts to remove firearms from people in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Connecticut was the first state to establish a red flag law in 1999 and a handful of other states have followed, the latest being Florida.

The White House also said Trump supports the Fix NICS bill, sponsored by Murphy and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

After Devin Kelly killed at least 26 people in a Baptist church in a rural Texas town in November, the senators crafted a bill that would increase the frequency with which state and federal agencies must report offenses to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, that would legally prohibit individuals from purchasing a firearm.

Kelly escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 after he was caught sneaking guns onto an Air Force base and “attempting to carry out death threats” made against military superiors. His name should have been placed in the NICS database, but wasn’t.

The White House also announced the establishment of a panel, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that would study age limits for gun purchases and consider the repeal of Obama-era policies that encouraged educators to consider alternatives to detention and expulsion, among other things.

The White House policy paper, and a series of tweets the president released Monday, make it clear Trump is backing away from his support of a “comprehensive” gun bill and raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle.

One tweet said “18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”

Another said if schools are declared gun-free zones “violence and danger are given an open invitation to enter.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “Sadly these proposals seem straight from the NRA’s playbook.”

“By taking two giant steps back for every one small step forward, this proposal simply fails to meet the moment,” Blumenthal said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said “just days after he looked the American people in the eye and promised real action to prevent gun violence, President Trump is proposing a plan that will appease his allies in the NRA but do very little to keep our children safe.”

“The President’s endorsement of the ‘Fix NICS’ act, will help ensure existing law is followed, but it does nothing to ensure all gun sales are subject to background checks< Malloy said. “Other aspects of his plan are grossly negligent and dangerously ill-informed, particularly arming teachers.”

Gun control activists also are disappointed.

“After meeting with the families and survivors directly impacted by the Parkland shootings and other gun tragedies, and making overtures to impose age restrictions on gun purchases, regulate bump stocks and make the background check system more effective, Donald Trump has demonstrated once again that his words are empty and dishonest,” said Po Murray of the Newtown Action Alliance.

And even the Trump-backed Fix NICS bill is in trouble in Congress.

Congressional Republicans are weighing whether to include the Fix NICS bill in a must-pass spending bill.

Unless Congress approves the omnibus bill – a spending package that would keep the federal government running until Sept. 30,  the end of the fiscal year – the government will shut down at about midnight on March 23. Congress has only approved the Pentagon’s budget until Sept. 30.

But Gun Owners of America is telling congressional Republicans not to vote for the budget bill, said Michael Hammond, the group’s legislative counsel.

Although the NRA has backed the Fix NICS bill, Gun Owners of America argues approval of the legislation will result in the unfair inclusion of many more people, including veterans treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, in the FBI’s database.

Hammond said he is disappointed that Trump has backed some changes to federal gun laws, and that the president is pressing states to adopt red-flag legislation.

“On gun issues, he’s as dumb as nails,” Hammond said.

While Trump has walked back some of his more ambitious proposals, Hammond said damage to gun rights already has been done.

“I’m not sure you can put that genie back in the bottle,” he said.

Murphy said the Fix NICS bill is only one step Congress should take to address gun violence. He, and other gun control advocates, want approval of a broader background check bill that would include some individual sales at gun shows and over the internet that are now exempt.

“Sometimes even if a President pushes a bill, it can’t pass,” Murphy tweeted on Monday. “But lets be clear — if Trump included expanded background checks — something he says he supports — in his gun violence plan, and pushed it, it would pass.”

NICS in Connecticut

Trump was strongly supported by the NRA when he campaigned for office, and there’s evidence of a “Trump effect” on gun sales since he was elected.

A look at NICS background checks of Connecticut residents since 2010 showed a sharp increase in those checks on prospective gun buyers when former President Obama assumed office in 2008, with spikes after the Newtown shooting of December 2012 and other mass murders, like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla.

Nationally, there’s evidence of slumping sales in the gun industry.

Gun manufacturers thrived during the Obama-era as firearms enthusiasts expected crackdowns and rushed to stockpile weapons. Those fears have eased — and sales have fallen — since Trump won the White House.

Consumer demand is falling to “new, lower levels,” according to the 166-year-old maker of Smith & Wesson firearms. The company, American Outdoor Brands Corp., is bracing for the downturn by cutting jobs and repaying debt

“We will operate our business under the assumption that the next 12 to 18 months could deliver flattish revenues,” American Outdoor Chief Executive Officer James Debney said in a recent  conference call with investors.

Selected mass shootings since 2010

Aug. 3, 2010
8 killed, 2 injured: Manchester, Conn.
Omar S. Thornton, 34, a driver for Hartford Distributors, emerges from a disciplinary hearing and begins shooting, killing eight people at the distributorship and then himself.

Jan. 8, 2011
6 killed, 11 injured: Tucson, Ariz
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shoots Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head during a meet-and-greet with constituents at a Tucson supermarket. Six people are killed and 11 others wounded.

July 20, 2012
12 killed, 58 injured: Aurora, Colo.
James Holmes, 24, attacks viewers of “the Dark Knight Rises” in movie theater just after midnight.

Dec. 14, 2012
27 killed, one injured: Newtown, Conn.
Adam Lanza, 20, forces his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shoots and kills 20 first graders and six adults. He kills himself at the scene. Lanza also killed his mother at the home they shared, before his shooting rampage at the school.

Sept. 16, 2013
12 killed, 3 injured: Washington, D.C.
Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, shoots and kills 12 people before he is killed by authorities at the Washington Navy Yard.

June 18, 2015
9 killed: Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Storm Roof, a suspected white supremacist, kills nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

Oct. 1, 2015
9 killed, 9 injured: Roseburg, Ore.
Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, 26, shoots and kills eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College. Harper-Mercer is killed in an exchange of gunfire with deputies.

Dec. 2, 2015
14 killed, 22 injured: San Bernardino, Calif.
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people and wound 22 others in a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino

June 12, 2016
49 killed, 58 injured: Orlando, Fla.
Omar Mateen, 29, kills 49 people were killed and injures 58 others in Pulse, a popular gay nightclub. Mateen was killed by a SWAT team.

Oct. 1, 2017
59 killed, more than 500 injured: Las Vegas
Stephen Paddock, 64.was found dead in a hotel room he used to fire into a crowd, killing 59 people and injuring more than 500.

Nov. 5, 2017
26 killed, 26 injured in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
Devin Patrick Kelley 26, killed 26 and injured 20 others before dying of gunshot wounds, possibly self inflicted.

Feb. 14, 2018
17 dead, 17 wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been indicted for the shooting deaths of 14 students and 17 faculty members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

Leave a comment