WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was to hear in person Wednesday from students at the Florida high school that was struck by last week’s shooting as he tries to show he is serious about tackling gun violence.
The White House said students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were expected for a “listening session,” along with representatives of survivors from shootings at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and Colorado’s Columbine High School. The goal is an “open discussion on how we can keep our students safe.”
Students are advocating for more restrictions on guns, and Trump wants to show that he has been moved by the Florida shooting and is willing to listen to proposals. Trump, a vocal supporter of gun rights, has not endorsed more robust changes sought by gun control activists.
Television personality Geraldo Rivera, who dined with Trump at the president’s private club in Florida over the weekend, said they discussed the idea of raising the minimum age to purchase assault-type weapons.
“At our dinner at Mar-a-Lago I presented the Juvenile Assault Weapons Ban idea,” Rivera said in an email. “He took it under advisement, and further suggested strongly that he was going to act to strengthen background checks.”
On Tuesday, Trump directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. It was a small sign of movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.
“We must do more to protect our children,” Trump said.
Asked at a press briefing Tuesday if Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House officials “haven’t closed the door on any front.” She also said that the idea of raising the age limit to buy an AR-15 was “on the table for us to discuss.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading advocate for tighter gun control, said Trump’s directive on bump stocks suggested the president was aware of fresh energy on the issue and called it a sign that “for the first time” politicians are “scared of the political consequences of inaction on guns.”
A bipartisan legislative effort to ban bump stocks last year fizzled out. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced in December that it was reviewing whether weapons that use the devices should be considered illegal machine guns under federal law.
Under the Obama administration, the ATF had concluded that bump stocks did not violate federal law. But the acting director of the ATF told lawmakers in December that the ATF and Justice Department would not have initiated the review if a ban “wasn’t a possibility at the end.”
The Justice Department had not made any announcement regarding its review when Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum directing the agency to complete it as soon as possible and propose a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”
Some Democrats argued the proper way to handle bump stocks was through legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold.”
Earlier, a White House statement said Trump was looking at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks.
That bill was developed in response to a mass shooting last November in which a gunman slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church. It would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The measure, which is pending in the Senate, was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database.
The GOP-controlled House paired the background checks bill with a measure making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, a top priority of the National Rifle Association.
Democratic Sen. Murphy said any attempt to combine background checks with concealed-carry provisions would significantly jeopardize the chances of passing a bipartisan overhaul of the system.
Among the steps sought by gun control advocates: closing loopholes that permit loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows, banning assault-type weapons and passing laws to enable family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.
The Parkland shooting also has prompted the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to take a fresh look at gun control legislation, although so far GOP leaders are refusing to endorse calls to ban assault rifles. Still, the discussion of some types of gun control legislation is a turnaround for Florida, which some have dubbed the “Gunshine State” for its gun policies.