WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called members of the National Rifle Association “patriots” and pledged to fight for “the sacred rights given to us by God, including the right to self-defense,” at the gun-rights group’s annual meeting in Dallas Friday.
In a rambling speech that lasted close to an hour, Trump discussed recent mass shootings and terrorist attacks, with an emphasis on the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
Trump did not advocate for further restrictions on gun sales, as he had suggested he might in the aftermath of that shooting, as Americans absorbed the shock of yet another school shooting so close to the Oct. 1 carnage in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.
Instead Trump advocated for training and arming school teachers, focusing on mental health and lamented law enforcement’s failure to see “red flags” that should have alerted them to the accused Parkland shooter’s unfitness to bear arms. He also supported improved background checks in line with legislation he signed in March.
Trump also contrasted the calls for tighter gun control after Parkland with terrorist attacks on pedestrians in Paris and elsewhere using trucks. “Let’s ban immediately all trucks,” Trump said sarcastically.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence responded to Trump’s focus on mental health, tweeting that “Mental health is a scapegoat. It is a way that Trump, the NRA, and others avoid the discussion of ways to reduce gun violence.”
Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said it was noteworthy that Trump “stayed silent about the real policy issues on the table.
“In fact, the president said nothing about any of the issues he forcefully argued for in February like the strongest possible background checks, extreme risk laws and potential for greater regulation of assault weapons,” Brown said.
The president didn’t stick just with gun-related topics in his speech.
He criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller, called his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, indicted by Mueller, a “nice guy,” recalled his electoral college victory, and praised hip-hop star Kanye West for boosting his poll numbers with African Americans.
At one point, he made light of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s biking injury that occurred during negotiations that led to an international nuclear pact with Iran.
“At 73-years-old, you never go into a bicycle race,” the president stated.
The speech was one in a series of addresses designed to get the GOP base to turn out in November. Trump urged NRA members to vote, as he warned, “We cannot get complacent. We have to win the midterms.”
In May 2016, when Trump appeared to be the presumptive GOP nominee, the 5-million-member NRA endorsed him in the presidential election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, it then spent some $30 million to help get Trump into the White House.
That support was not forgotten. Last year Trump told NRA conventiongoers in Atlanta, “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.”
Since then, Trump occasionally has strayed from his full-throated support for the organization, even as the NRA itself briefly deviated from its longstanding opposition to any new laws or regulations of firearms. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, for instance, he declared that he would stand up to the powerful gun lobby, before later backpedaling.
From the NRA convention, Ken Kuklowski, a lawyer who advocates for gun rights, told the Review-Journal that Trump’s speech was a pitch-perfect talk, there was no other figure NRA members would rather hear – and he expects Trump’s speech to “shape the 2018 election cycle.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.