President Trump on Wednesday claimed that the National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun lobby group in the country, has “less power” over him than they have over members of Congress. His comments came during a bipartisan meeting with legislators to address school safety in the wake of this month’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“They do have great power, I agree with that,” Trump said, responding to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who argued that passing any legislation to prevent gun violence was difficult due to the NRA’s outsized influence on Capitol Hill. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. What do I need?”
Many legislators have indeed accepted large donations from the NRA over the years, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who told Parkland shooting survivors last week that he would continue to do so, despite the tragedy in his home state. But while the gun lobbying organization has not made direct contributions to Trump himself, it did spend more than $11 million on independent expenditures to support him, and nearly $20 million more to attack Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 presidential election.
Additionally, Trump has signaled a willingness to remain close with the NRA and repeat, sometimes verbatim, its talking points. Just this past Sunday, the president held a lunch meeting with three senior NRA officials, including NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and chief lobbyist and principal political strategist Chris Cox. According to Trump, their discussion centered on mental health.
“I tell you what, the reason I had lunch with the NRA Sunday — I called them. I said you’ve got to come over. I said ‘fellas, we’ve got to do something,'” the president recounted for lawmakers on Wednesday. “… I tell you, they are well-meaning. I said to them very nice, I said, ‘Fellas, we’ve got to do something. We can’t keep restricting–we can’t keep… we have to do what is right.’ When it comes to mental health and other issues, I said, we have to do what is right. And I’m telling you, I think they’re there. I think they’re there.”
He added, “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified. They want to do what is right, and they’re going to do what’s right. I really believe that.”
According to a Politico report on Monday, the president’s language on gun policy has closely mirrored — if not been identical to — the NRA’s official talking points in the days following the Parkland school shooting. The one issue on which the two sides have diverged is bump stocks: the NRA’s official position on the matter is to wait for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to issue new regulations banning them, which ATF officials have repeatedly said they cannot do without legislation from Congress. Trump, by contrast, has said he would “write out” an order banning them himself, if it came to it.
“I’m going to write the bump stock, essentially write it out,” he said Wednesday. “That will be gone shortly. We can focus on other things.”