Trump supports improving gun background checks

Catherine Lucey
Associated Press

Dozens of teens spread their bodies across the pavement outside the White House on Monday to symbolize the dead and call for stronger gun controls, a precursor to a march in Washington planned next month by survivors of the Parkland school shooting and supporters of their cause.

Ella Fesler, a 16-year-old high school student in Alexandria, Virginia, was among the students at the “lie-in.” She said it was time for change, adding: “Every day when I say ‘bye’ to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again.”

The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump was “supportive” of efforts to improve the system of background checks for people who seek to buy guns in the United States.

Before leaving his Florida club just 40 miles from the community that was ravaged by the shooting that left 17 dead last week, Trump gave a nod toward a specific policy action, with the White House saying he had spoken Friday to Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, about a bipartisan bill designed to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders qualified the support, stressing that talks continue and “revisions are being considered,” but said “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.”

The main action Trump has taken on guns in office has been to sign a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people. The president has voiced strong support for gun rights and the National Rifle Association.

The bipartisan background check legislation would be aimed at ensuring that federal agencies and states accurately report relevant criminal information to the FBI. It was introduced after the Air Force failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church.

But previous gun tragedies have not produced action in Congress. After the Las Vegas massacre in the fall, Republicans and Democrats in Congress talked about taking a rare step to tighten the nation’s gun laws. Four months later, the only gun legislation that has moved in the House or Senate instead eases restrictions for gun owners.

Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the measure Trump discussed with Cornyn would help to enforce existing rules but would not close loopholes permitting loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows. She’s pressing for a ban on assault-type weapons and for laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.

“We need a comprehensive system,” Brown said. “One of these isn’t enough.”

Trump, who visited first responders and some victims Friday, has focused his comments on mental health, rather than guns. The White House says the president will host a “listening session” with students and teachers this week and will discuss school safety with state and local officials. But they have offered no further details on who will attend those sessions.

The massacre seemed to soften the resistance of some in Florida’s leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999. However, there is still strong resistance to gun-control measures.

Meanwhile, the top law enforcement official in Polk County, Florida, is trying a more hands-on approach. Sheriff Grady Judd said Monday that his department has started a program that will train and arm teachers in schools to fend off would-be shooters.

Judd said if teachers there were armed, the incident could have had a different outcome.

“We had coaches that ran to stand in front of their students with no gun,” he said. “Why not give them a fighting chance?”

Judd said the Baker Act, which governs involuntary institutionalization of people with mental health issues, needs more teeth.

“When a crazed gunman arrives on campus with murder in his eyes, the deed is done within two to five minutes,” he said, adding that criminals will think twice if they suspect someone else on campus might have a gun under the county’s so-called “Sentinel program.”

Orlando Sentinel contributed.