President Trump to speak at NRA convention amid scrutiny over response to mass shootings

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum, in Atlanta, April 28, 2017.PlayMike Stewart/AP, FILE
WATCH Gun rights will 'never be under siege as long as I am your president': Trump to NRA

President Donald Trump is set to address the National Rifle Association's annual convention for the third year in a row on Friday, amid increased scrutiny of his administration's response to multiple mass shootings that have sparked protests nationwide in the past year.

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The president has previously used the occasion to publicly boast about his work to protect Second Amendment rights, and in 2017 he was the first sitting president to address the NRA's convention since Ronald Reagan in 1983.

"The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end," Trump said in his address. "You have a true friend and champion in the White House. No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners."

However, in the year since that address the president and the NRA have drawn controversy over their reactions in the wake of the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland, Florida and the Sutherland Springs Church shooting in Texas.

While the president has sought credit for taking steps to implement a ban on the use of 'bumpstocks' that the Vegas shooter used, he later backed away from remarks he made in a meeting with bipartisan lawmakers where he seemed to entertain tighter gun restrictions such as universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and raising the age limit on purchase of certain firearms.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a meeting with bipartisan Members of Congress to discuss school and community safety, at the White House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2018.Shawn Thew/EPA via Shutterstock, FILE
President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a meeting with bipartisan Members of Congress to discuss school and community safety, at the White House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2018.

“I like taking the guns early,” Trump said in the late February meeting, referring to a proposal that would allow law enforcement to intervene and confiscate firearms from individuals deemed a danger to others. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

The president's embrace of such a policy, which followed his sit-down with victims and families affected by the Douglas Stoneman High School shooting and other past school shootings, earned a rare rebuke directly from the NRA.

“I want to be really clear what we're talking about here,” NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch said in an interview at the time with Fox News. “We are talking about punishing innocent Americans, stripping from them constitutional rights without due process.”

The following evening, however, the president met in the Oval Office with leadership from the NRA, after which NRA executive director Chris Cox expressed confidence Trump was committed to supporting "strong due process" and that both he and the Vice President "don't want gun control."

Nearly two weeks later, the White House unveiled a series of school safety proposals that left most authority for reform up to individual states and created a new federal commission led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to evaluate further potential school safety proposals.

The only two pieces of legislation backed in the list were measures the White House previously expressed support for and did not include any mention of universal background checks.

The announcement, made with little fanfare and with no personal announcement by the president, was panned by gun control activists as a capitulation to the NRA's demands. According to the Texas Tribune, there are multiple planned protests in the Dallas area that will coincide with the convention.

PHOTO: Participants arrive for the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2018. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
Participants arrive for the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2018.

A mid-April ABC/Washington Post poll found a significant shift in terms of national support for some gun control proposals. According to the poll, 62 percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, up from 50 percent just since mid-February. 72 percent expressed support for raising the legal age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21 in all states, and 85 percent favor red flag laws empowering the police to take guns away from those judged to be a danger to themselves and others.

However, in an interview with Fox Thursday, Loesch said the convention will offer Trump a platform to dispute any narrative that his views somehow differ with that of the NRA.

"Members are gonna be really excited to hear from the president," Loesch said. "You all know just as well as anyone the work that legacy media has really put into driving a wedge between this president and law-abiding gun owners and the president, while he entertained ideas from the other side of the aisle and people who wanted to restrict Second Amendment natural rights he ultimately put his foot down and said that your Second Amendment is your Second Amendment."

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