First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
WASHINGTON — In the last 24 hours, President Trump has asked his attorney general to propose new regulations that would ban bump stocks — devices that allow rifles to fire more rapidly — and he’s tweeted about “strengthening” background checks for guns. This all comes as the president hosts a listening session at the White House at 4:15 pm ET with students and teachers affected by the Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine school shootings.
But here’s the question to ask: Do these actions represent a true policy sea change for a president who campaigned against gun-control measures in 2016? Or are they simply window dressing to allow the White House to seem like it’s addressing gun violence after the Parkland shooting — before the subject changes to a different story?
After all, here’s what Trump said as president a year ago, when he addressed the National Rifle Association in April 2017:
"The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House. No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans. Instead, we will work with you, by your side. We will work with the NRA to promote responsible gun ownership, to protect our wonderful hunters and their access to the very beautiful outdoors. You met my son—I can tell you, both sons, they love the outdoors. Frankly, I think they love the outdoors more than they love, by a long shot, Fifth Avenue. But that’s okay. And we want to ensure you of the sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens."
Also remember: When Trump first addressed the Parkland shooting, he mentioned looking at mental health – but said nothing about policy changes when it comes to guns. “Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” he said last week. “Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorney generals, where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority.”
So a real change? Or just smoke and mirrors? The answer will be evident if the White House is still talking about guns a week from now – and sending actual legislation to Capitol Hill.
As Axios reports, “President Trump has told associates that he doesn’t think high school kids should be able to buy guns, and is open to the idea of imposing a minimum purchase age of 21 for guns like those used in the Florida high school massacre, a source close to the president said. But, but, but: The source cautioned that the conversations with the president have been relatively loose and open-ended so far. Nothing has been decided, or is close to decided, on the age question.”
Why bump stocks will be hard to regulate without congressional action
As NBC’s Pete Williams reminds us, “Under federal law, semi-automatic rifles are legal. They fire one round each time the trigger is pulled. Fully automatic rifles are illegal without a special permit. They fire rounds continuously as long as the trigger is held down. The ATF has long concluded that the bump stock does not alter the fact that the rifle remains a semi-auto. Bump stocks make the weapon fire much faster, but there's still only one round fired per trigger pull.”
As Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement yesterday: “The ATF currently lacks authority under the law to ban bump stocks. The agency made this clear in a 2013 letter to Congress, writing that ‘stocks of this type are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes.’” More Feinstein: “If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold. Legislation is the only answer.”
The Mueller probe gets another guilty plea
From NBC’s Ken Dilanian, Pete Williams, Tom Winter and Tracy Connor: “A lawyer who is the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch named in the controversial Donald Trump dossier pleaded guilty on Tuesday to lying to investigators in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. It is not clear to what extent Alex van der Zwaan may be helping Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. A plea agreement signed last week doesn't mention cooperation as a condition.”
“Van der Zwaan, the fourth person to plead guilty in the Russia probe, admitted in federal court to the sole count of making false statements about his communications with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates.”
Jared Kushner and John Kelly fight over Kushner’s security clearance?
“Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is resisting giving up his access to highly classified information, prompting an internal struggle with John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, over who should be allowed to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets,” the New York Times writes. “Mr. Kushner is one of dozens of White House officials operating under interim security clearances because of issues raised by the F.B.I. during their background checks, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the clearances.”
More: “Mr. Kushner’s clearance has afforded him access to closely guarded information, including the presidential daily brief, the intelligence summary Mr. Trump receives every day, but it has not been made permanent, and his background investigation is still pending after 13 months serving in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. Now Mr. Kelly, his job at risk and his reputation as an enforcer of order and discipline tarnished by the scandal, is working to revamp the security clearance process, starting with an effort to strip officials who have interim clearances of their high-level access.”
Dems flip a state House seat in Kentucky — but this wasn’t your ordinary race
Democrat Linda Belcher “easily defeated Republican Rebecca Johnson, the widow of a lawmaker who killed himself in December following allegations that the molested a 17-year-old girl in 2012, in a special election held Tuesday,” the Lexington Herald writes.
“Dan Johnson narrowly defeated Belcher in the 2016 general election after the Republican Party of Kentucky denounced him for posting racist images on his Facebook page. They denounced him again, a little over a year later, after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Johnson was once indicted for attempted arson, had claimed to raise a man from the dead and allegedly molested a 17-year-old girl.”