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Trump backs off raising age limit to buy some weapons and focuses on arming teachers

Trump backs off raising age limit to buy some weapons and focuses on arming teachers
President Trump, shown at the White House last month, has backed off raising the age limit to purchase certain weapons. His administration instead wants to help states provide teachers with "rigorous" firearms training. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

President Trump is pushing forward with a plan to arm teachers and improve background checks for gun purchases, but has retreated from his promise to raise the age limit to buy certain kinds of weapons, a move many see as caving to the National Rifle Assn.

Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday that there is "not much political support (to put it mildly)" for raising the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase powerful rifles like the one used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.

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During a meeting with six students and families from the Florida high school in the White House last month, Trump pledged to be "strong" on increasing the age limit. A recent CNN poll found strong support for the idea, including among Republicans.

But Trump backed off that stance in recent weeks, following a White House meeting with NRA officials.

Rather than push for the comprehensive gun legislation he urged Congress to pass just last month, Trump now wants state and local officials to take the lead in setting age limits and other issues.

"States are making this decision," Trump wrote Monday, making an apparent reference to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's decision to sign a state law requiring gun buyers to be 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period on most gun purchases.

The Florida bill also allows school staff to carry firearms, an idea Trump has championed but that is opposed by the National Education Assn., the largest teachers lobby in the country, and other groups.

"Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law," Trump wrote on Monday.

The Trump administration wants to help states provide teachers with "rigorous" firearms training, a White House official said Sunday night during a call with reporters describing the administration's efforts to prevent school shootings. But it was unclear if that meant offering new federal funding.

"The point is that schools should have this tool if they choose to use the tool," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on NBC's "Today" show. "Communities should have the tools, states should have the tool, but nobody should be mandated to do it."

DeVos will lead the Federal Commission on School Safety to study ways to prevent school shootings, and make specific recommendations, the White House announced Sunday.

When asked if her commission will consider raising the age limit on guns, DeVos said the group would look at it, but was noncommittal about what may emerge.

The commission will also look at entertainment rating systems for violent movies and video games, how the media covers mass shootings, and whether an Obama-era program to "rethink" school discipline should be dismantled, among other things.

Trump's creation of another commission was surprising, given his comments Saturday at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, where he derided the usual Washington practice of creating a "blue ribbon committee" to "talk, talk, talk" about problems, rather than taking decisive action.

In addition to setting up DeVos' commission, the White House is backing a bill designed to improve the federal background check system currently used for gun store purchases, and supports a separate piece of legislation to authorize grants for violence prevention training in schools.

But the White House considers a bill that raises the age limit on gun purchases to be unlikely to pass.

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The president has decided to focus first on "pushing through things that have broad bipartisan support" such as background checks, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Age limits on guns is "one of those things that will be reviewed," she said.

"He hasn't backed away from these things at all," Sanders said about raising the age limit. "We are focused on things we can do immediately."

The Department of Justice is pushing through new regulations to ban the sale of "bump stocks" that make rifles fire like automatic weapons, a product used by a gunman to kill 59 people from a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas last October.

Trump has also ordered the Justice Department to help local police provide firearms training for school staff, when requested, the White House said. And he wants to encourage retired law enforcement officers and military veterans to find work in schools.

Trump's backsliding on guns echoed his seesawing on the immigration debate. Last fall, Trump told lawmakers he'd "take the heat" on an immigration proposal that protected "Dreamers" from deportation. But days later, he refused to support a bipartisan compromise that paired border security spending with a legalization program for people brought to the country illegally as children.

It's also a sign that Trump, even though he has chastised others for being afraid of the NRA, isn't willing to push too hard against the politically powerful gun owners lobby.

"President Trump has completely caved to the gun lobby,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

At the White House last month, Trump needled Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for being "afraid of the NRA" and not increasing the gun purchase age limit in their bipartisan bill to strengthen background checks on gun sales.

Trump called the NRA "great patriots" in the Feb. 28 meeting, but went on to say: "that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18."

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

UPDATES:

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m.

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