By Jeff Mason and Daniel Trotta
DALLAS (Reuters) – President Donald Trump enthusiastically embraced the National Rifle Association on Friday, vowing not to tighten U.S. firearms laws despite suggesting after a Florida school shooting that he would take on the powerful gun-rights group.
At the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas, Trump called again for arming teachers and increasing school security to head off future mass shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida in February that killed 17 people. Such measures are supported by the NRA.
With Republican control of the U.S. Congress up for grabs in November’s midterm elections, Trump used the NRA platform to return to rhetoric he used in 2016 to excite pro-gun voters, warning that Democrats are determined to take away Americans’ guns.
Trump made no mention of gun-control proposals he tentatively floated in the past, such as raising the age limit for buying rifles. The NRA opposes that and other limits on gun sales as a violation of the right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Democratic lawmakers generally support tighter gun laws, but specific proposals that they favor, such as universal background checks and a ban on military-style “assault” rifles, would not alter the Second Amendment.
“Your Second Amendment rights are under siege. But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “We’ve got to get Republicans elected.”
“The one thing that stands between Americans and the elimination of our Second Amendment rights has been conservatives in Congress,” he said.
The Parkland massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 seemed to have marked a turning point in America’s long-running gun debate, sparking a youth-led movement for tighter gun controls.
Days after the shooting, Trump promised action on gun regulation and at a gathering of state officials, he said of the NRA: “We have to fight them every once in a while.”
But since then, no major new federal gun controls have been imposed, although the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people.
“I’m not happy with the bump stock issue, but overall I’m very happy with him. Best president yet,” said Florida accountant Richard Brinkman, 62, who watched Trump’s speech.
As Trump spoke, shares rose in major gun makers Sturm Ruger & Co and American Outdoor Brands, maker of Smith & Wesson firearms. The shares have climbed since Parkland, which prompted concerns of tighter gun controls. Gun sales typically surge on such concerns after mass shootings.
“Our hearts break for every American who has suffered the horrors of this school shooting,” Trump said of the Parkland shooting.
Since Parkland, Trump has largely moved his rhetoric back in line with the NRA, which spent $55 million to support him and other Republican candidates in the 2016 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll found in March 2018 that 54 percent of adults wanted “strong regulations or restrictions” for firearms. That was up from 39 percent in a similar poll from April 2012.
Among Republicans in the poll, 40 percent wanted strong regulations or restrictions, up from 22 percent in April 2012.
Trump met with NRA officials privately at the White House twice in February as he mulled policy responses to the shooting.
He initially expressed support for measures that would extend the background check system to all gun purchases, raise the age limit for buying rifles, and seize guns temporarily from people reported to be dangerous.
Trump has since endorsed more modest proposals, such as legislation aimed at providing more data for the background check system. He did not endorse closing a loophole in existing law that would require background checks for guns bought at guns shows or sales arranged over the internet.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell)