WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that his administration was drafting an executive order that would ban rapid-fire gun bump stocks and appeared to embrace a series of gun-control measures that his party has long rejected. During an extraordinary hour-long discussion on school safety at the White House, his free-wheeling positions on guns appeared to startle several members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Cameras were allowed in to capture Trump's negotiations with key members of Congress in real time, where he chastised some in attendance for being too "afraid" of the National Rifle Association to take action after past mass shootings and positioned himself as the person to finally herald legislation that could tighten America's background checks system. At several points, Trump seemed to side against not just his conservative counterparts but the NRA, which spent millions of dollars supporting Trump's 2016 presidential bid.
At one point, Trump's stated desire to turn tragedy into "something that’s beautiful, that works" was countered with a reminder about the power of the gun lobby — especially over Republicans. But Trump seemed unfazed, offering his conviction that the NRA was on board with some gun control measures. He also said that while the organization might hold sway over some lawmakers, it has less power over him.
The first step starts with Trump himself, he said Wednesday, when he promised to "essentially, write [bump stocks] out" with an executive order, instructing lawmakers that they won't have to include the measure in future gun and school safety legislation coming out of the Hill. "The lawyers" are working on this executive order "right now," he said.
"Shortly," Trump assured of bump stocks, "that'll be gone."
The move comes just over a week after Trump directed his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to propose regulations that ban bump stocks and similar devices "that turn legal weapons into machine guns."
At the time, Trump called the new regulations "critical" and predicted they'd be finalized by the Department of Justice soon. That Trump is now undertaking this effort himself after delegating it to the DOJ is notable, as Trump has been critical of Sessions on Twitter recently for the way he's handled other issues.
But regardless of who does the regulating, questions still stand about whether the move is legal.
Over the course of the conversation, Trump also reiterated his concerns about violence in video games movies — mentioning that he looks at some of what his young son, Barron, watches and says, "How is that possible?" — and told Vice President Mike Pence that he supports taking guns away from people who have been flagged by families or law enforcement as potentially dangerous.
"Take the guns first, go through due process second," Trump said, responding to a suggestion from Pence to "allow due process" but give law enforcement officials the "ability to go to court, obtain an order" to disarm the individual.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who was not in the White House meeting, torched Trump's idea in a statement Wednesday evening.
"We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason. We're not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Sasse said.
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that "many ideas, some good & some not so good" had emerged from the meeting, and that a bill should "respect 2nd Amendment!"
While Trump has expressed support for concealed carry in schools, he threw cold water on similar measures when Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., pressed for them Wednesday. The president urged lawmakers to huddle together to create one bill on guns and school safety — repeatedly urging for one bill as opposed to several — and explaining that he didn’t think a bill with background checks could pass if a concealed carry component was attached to it.
"Maybe that bill will someday pass, but it should pass as a separate," Trump advised Scalise, the House majority whip. "If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame. And you know, I’m with you but let it be a separate bill. You’ll never get this passed. If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed."
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is not the first to look at bump stocks — something the president pointed out in a memo to the DOJ this month.
"Although the Obama administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock type devices were lawful to purchase and possess, I sought further clarification of the law restricting fully automatic machine guns," a memo said.
The Obama administration did not regulate bump stocks in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, but that was because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives decided at the time that it could not legally regulate bump stocks. The Trump administration may be trying to come at the issue with an executive order, but it's unclear how they will avoid similar questions about the legality of such an action.
The push to regulate bump stocks comes in response to America's deadliest mass shooting, in Las Vegas last year, where a gunman used the devices to kill 58 people.
Throughout the president's numerous conversations with stakeholders in the gun control and school safety debate, he was reminded of his close ties to the NRA — even if some of his proposals, like a rise in the legal age limit to purchase semi-automatic weapons, to 21 from 18, buck their desires.
Trump had lunch with top officials from the NRA this past weekend, during which he says he told them: "It's time. We got to stop this nonsense. It's time."
It's unclear, however, what proposals he told them it was "time" for.
"They have great power over you people. They have less power over me," Trump told lawmakers Wednesday. However, Trump said the NRA is "there" and "want[ing] to do what's right" on guns in the aftermath of the latest school shooting to shake America.
CORRECTION (Feb. 28, 7:35 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the day Trump made his remarks about guns. He spoke on Wednesday, not Friday.
CORRECTION (Feb. 28, 2018, 5:50 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the year of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was in 2012, not 2013.