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Gun violence: What Trump said vs. what Trump did

The killings in Santa Fe, Texas, are the second mass shooting targeting students in recent months. The president pledged action each time.
by Benjy Sarlin /  / Updated 

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This story was originally published March 12, 2018, and was updated Friday after the Santa Fe school shooting.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump again vowed to confront school shootings after a gunman killed at least 10 people in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday.

"My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others," Trump told reporters. "Everyone must work together, at every level of government, to keep our children safe."

This is the second mass shooting targeting students in recent months. After a massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead, Trump promised immediate action and voiced interest in a number of bills in response, some of which he ultimately rejected amid opposition from gun rights activists.

The president initially shocked observers when he told lawmakers in a February White House discussion that he supported an increase in the age limit for purchasing firearms, wanted to remove weapons from threatening gun owners and put "due process second," and expressed interest in a universal background check bill that the NRA strongly opposed.

Two weeks later and after a friendly meeting with the NRA's top lobbyist, the White House put out a plan for confronting gun violence that was more limited. Some elements were incorporated into a spending bill that passed in March.

Here are some of the topics raised in the February meeting and in Trump's past tweets and statements and what the White House and Congress have done since then.

Raising the age limit

What Trump said: The president made clear loud and early after the Parkland high school shooting that he wanted to raise the age to buy a gun to 21, which currently applies only to handguns.

Not only did Trump propose an age limit increase, he told one Republican senator in their televised White House meeting on guns that the lawmaker was "afraid of the NRA" for not addressing it earlier and repeatedly noted that his own position put him at odds with the gun lobby.

What Trump did: The White House did not call on Congress to raise the federal age limit from 18 to 21. Instead, a commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will consider the policy.

In a tweet, Trump said they were "watching court cases" before making a decision. After previously noting that his support for raising the age limit was "not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA, but I’m saying it anyway," Trump said that there was "not much political support (to put it mildly)" for the idea.

Universal background checks

What Trump said: While never committing to a bill, Trump expressed strong interest in bipartisan legislation by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., that would expand background checks to private and online sales, which is a top priority for gun violence prevention groups.

"I mean, you went through a lot of presidents, and you didn't get it done," Trump said in his White House meeting with lawmakers when universal background checks came up. "But you have a different president, and I think, maybe, you have a different attitude, too. I think people want to get it done."

Several senators told Trump his support was critical to passing the bill. He asked them to consider expanding Manchin-Toomey to include more measures as well, like a higher age limit.

What Trump did: The White House did not come out in support of Manchin-Toomey or similar legislation.

Fix NICS Act

What Trump said: He expressed interest in the Fix NICS Act, a less far-reaching background check bill backed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., that seeks to improve enforcement of the existing system by prodding various agencies to keep their records updated. But Trump said the legislation should be "much more comprehensive" and didn't go far enough. He also told House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., that the House's version, which would force states to accept concealed carry permits, was too divisive to pass.

"Fix NICS has some really good things in it, but it would be nice if we could add everything onto it," the president said in the White House meeting. "And maybe you change the title, all right? 'The U.S. background check bill' or whatever."

What Trump did: The White House announced its support for the Fix NICS Act, but did not mention any other federal legislation that affects firearm sales. The Fix NICS Act, which was not opposed by the NRA, was signed into law in March after being rolled into an omnibus spending bill.

Arming teachers

What Trump said: The president repeatedly spoke and tweeted about arming trained teachers with relevant experience in order to respond to a school shooter.

What Trump did: The White House announced that the Justice Department would help educators work with their state and local governments to train "specially qualified school personnel on a voluntary basis" in firearms.

The administration also announced it would back the STOP School Violence Act, which would provide annual grants to states to help schools and law enforcement add security and train for an attack.

The measure, which pays out $75 million in grants in 2018 and $100 million each year between 2019 and 2028, passed in the same omnibus spending bill as the Fix NICS Act. The legislation included language that prevents grants from being used to arm teachers or school staff or to train them in firearms use.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

What Trump said: The president expressed strong interest in proposals by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others to pass "red flag" laws that would allow police, family and friends to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order in court that would temporarily take firearms from an individual they worry could hurt themselves or others.

Trump sparked an outcry on the right when he complained that going to court was too burdensome and police should take guns immediately from suspects instead.

"You could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second," he said in his White House meeting with senators.

What Trump did: The White House encouraged states to pass Extreme Risk Protection Order laws, which a fact sheet said "should be carefully tailored to ensure the due process rights of law-abiding citizens are protected." The NRA has opposed prior state legislation on gun restraining orders, citing due process concerns. Five states have passed new "red flag" laws in the months since the Parkland shooting, according to a count by The Trace, and over a dozen other states are considering legislation.

The administration did not weigh in on legislation in the Senate by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would allow people to petition federal courts as well. Other proposed legislation, also not mentioned in the administration's gun rollout, would give states grants to help implement Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Domestic violence

What Trump said: At his meeting with senators, Trump said he favored a proposal by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., that would make it harder for people convicted of abusing a dating partner to buy firearms.

"I would say this: We’re going to get it passed," he said. "If you can add domestic violence paragraphs, pages into this bill, I'm all for it. I think it’s terrific if you can do it. It could be done."

What Trump did: The White House's gun policy rollout in March did not mention legislation related to domestic violence.

Bump Stocks

What Trump said: The president said he would ban bump stocks, a type of device linked to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that makes it easier to fire semi-automatic weapons at rapid speeds. "Shortly, that'll be gone," he said at his February White House meeting.

What Trump did: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is considering new regulations, now open for public comment, that could ban bump stocks. But any new rules could face legal challenges: The agency previously examined the issue under the Obama administration and concluded they lacked the authority to regulate them. Congress could get around this potential hurdle by banning bump stocks themselves, but the White House has not endorsed any of the bills that would do so. In the meantime, the largest bump stock manufacturer is ceasing production.

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