WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump confirmed Monday that his administration would not immediately pursue a proposal to raise the age limit for buying an assault rifle, going back on earlier pledges that he made after last month's deadly mass shooting at a South Florida high school.
Trump wrote Monday on Twitter 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.
During a White House meeting with six students and families from the Florida high school last month, Trump pledged to be "strong" on increasing the age limit.
Rather than push for the comprehensive gun legislation he urged Congress to pass just weeks ago, 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 Florida Gov. Rick Scott's decision to sign a state law requiring gun buyers to be at least 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period on most gun purchases.
The Florida measure also allows school staff members to carry firearms, an idea Trump has championed but that is opposed by the National Education Association, the largest teachers lobby in the country, as well as other groups.
"Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law," Trump wrote Monday.
The White House insisted that Trump remained committed to more significant changes even if they are delayed.
"We can't just write things down and make them law. We actually have to follow a process," said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The president has decided to focus first on "pushing through things that have broad bipartisan support" like background checks, Sanders said. Raising the age limit on gun purchases 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."
Democrats derided Trump's shift as a sign that, even though he has chastised others for being afraid of the National Rifle Association, Trump 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.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., tweeted that Trump "couldn't even summon the political courage to propose raising the age limit on firearm purchases -- despite repeated promises to support such a step at a meeting with lawmakers."
In a televised meeting with lawmakers on Feb. 28, Trump praised members of the gun lobby as "great patriots" but also declared "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."
He then turned toward Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and questioned why previous gun control legislation did not include that provision.
"You know why?" said Trump, answering his own question. "Because you're afraid of the NRA, right? Ha ha."
Toomey had a ready response after the president's tweet Monday: "It's quite obvious that I'm the guy that stood up to the NRA," he said. Asked if Trump was afraid of the NRA, Toomey said, "I don't know what's driving his decision."
Over the weekend, the White House released a limited plan to combat school shootings that leaves the question of arming teachers to states and local communities and sends the age issue to a commission for review.
Just two days earlier, Trump had mocked commissions as something of a dead end while talking about the opioid epidemic. "We can't just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees," he said, adding that all they do is "talk, talk, talk."
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. But it was unclear if that meant offering new federal funding.
The commission will also look at entertainment rating systems for violent movies and video games, how the media cover mass shootings, and whether a Barack Obama-era program to "rethink" school discipline should be dismantled, among other things.
The White House is also backing a bill designed to improve the federal background check system currently used for gun store purchases, and it supports a separate piece of legislation to authorize grants for violence-prevention training in schools.
Trump drew praise from Republicans including Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the author of the school safety bill, who tweeted that he was "grateful" for the White House backing and called the measure "the best first step we can take" to make students safer.
No deadline was set for recommendations from Trump's planned commission, but officials expect them within a year.
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 58 people in Las Vegas in October.
Also on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that U.S. attorneys will more aggressively enforce the law that makes it a crime for gun buyers to lie on their federal background checks.
The Justice Department also will increase the presence of law enforcement officers at schools and continue to review the way law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public, Sessions said.
Lying on a federal background check when purchasing a firearm is a felony that can be punished by up to five years in prison, but the crime is rarely prosecuted, according to current and former Justice Department officials. Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to "swiftly and aggressively" prosecute cases against people who are prohibited from having firearms and lie on federal forms to pass background checks.
Sessions also directed the FBI to identify localities that are not fully reporting information about arrests and mental health records to federal authorities. Such information could prevent someone from purchasing a gun if discovered during a background check.
Sessions told the FBI that people who can't legally own guns shouldn't be able to pass background checks "simply because information was not available to you."
Information for this article was contributed by Brian Bennett of Tribune News Service; by Catherine Lucey, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press; and by Sari Horwitz of The Washington Post.
A Section on 03/13/2018
Print Headline: Trump steps back on gun measures; Age limits up to the states, he says