Trump does an about-face on the issue of age limits for assault-style weapons

The president claimed there was "not much political support" for the idea.

Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House debuted a new school safety proposal on Sunday evening that backtracks on the president’s previous comments about raising the minimum purchasing age from 18 to 21 for sales of assault-style weapons. Hours later, President Donald Trump himself tweeted that there was “not much political support” for the idea.

“Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!…….” Trump tweeted Monday morning, referring to the White House proposal and several changes the administration announced over the weekend. “….On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”

The new proposal, rolled out over the weekend, establishes a federal commission that will evaluate several topics, including violent video games and entertainment, entertainment ratings systems, and safety measures within schools, such as arming teachers. It also seeks to study the possibility of raising the minimum purchasing age for assault-style weapons, stopping short of actually implementing any new policies. The commission, spearheaded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is expected to make recommendations to the White House in the next year. 

In some respects, Trump’s claim on Monday was accurate: many legislators have shied away from the topic of increasing age restrictions for assault-style weapon purchases, mainly due to pressure from the country’s most powerful gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association (NRA). But recent surveys have showed broad support for the idea among the public: a Rasmussen poll published on March 6 revealed that approximately 67 percent of American adults are in favor of increasing the age limit from 18 to 21, with only 26 percent opposed. A Politico/Morning Consult poll published on February 28 yielded similar results, with 82 percent of respondents in favor of raising the minimum age for purchasing an assault-style weapon to 21, and 81 percent of respondents saying they supported raising the minimum purchasing age for all firearms to 21.

Trump’s sudden about-face comes less than one month after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida which left 17 people dead. In the wake of that shooting, Trump insisted that the minimum purchasing age for assault-style weapons like the one used by the alleged gunman should be raised from 18 to 21, something the NRA has said it opposes.

“You have a case right now where somebody can buy a handgun at 21. Now, this is not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA. But I’m saying it anyway — I’m going to just have to say it,” Trump said, during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers on February 28. “You can’t buy [a handgun]…until you’re 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it’s something you have to think about.”

Trump also insisted in that same meeting that the reason legislators had not moved on the issue themselves was because they feared the NRA, which wields heavy influence on Capitol Hill.

“…You’re afraid of the NRA,” Trump said. “It’s a big issue right now. A lot of people are talking about it. A lot of people are afraid of that issue, raising the age for that weapon to 21.”

He added that, unlike Congress, he would be able to change the policy because the NRA had “less power” over him than lawmakers.

Days later, however, following a meeting with top NRA officials, the president himself appeared to buckle under pressure.

According to CNN, during that meeting, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA lobbying executive Chris Cox argued against the idea of raising the minimum purchasing age to 21, telling the president that such a move would infringe on the constitutional rights of 18, 19, and 20-year-olds. That same night, Trump tweeted that he’d had a “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office…with the NRA.” Less than two weeks later, the president had reversed course entirely.

Education Secretary DeVos spent much of Monday morning this week attempting to do damage control, making the rounds on morning talk shows and claiming that the president’s sudden change of tone was not an indicator that the administration had dropped the ball.

“Everything is on the table. We will be looking at this,” DeVos said, speaking with TODAY host Savannah Guthrie about the issue of raising age limits and Trump’s apparent reversal. “Everything is on the table, and the commission will be studying it and many other issues, and will be forthcoming with solutions.”