The White House on Tuesday left the door open to supporting a ban on assault rifles and directed the Justice Department to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks,” the accessory used to simulate fully automatic fire in the deadly Las Vegas attack, as the Trump administration’s response to the fatal school shooting in Florida began to take shape.
President Donald Trump announced his directive for Attorney General Jeff Sessions on bump stocks and other weapons accessories a day after the White House signaled that he was also open to bolstering background checks on gun sales.
The attention to the issue comes less than a week after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by a gunmen using an AR-15 assault rifle.
“We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children,” the president said during a White House event honoring local authorities and first responders on Tuesday.
The push to regulate bump stocks gained prominence in October, when Stephen Paddock used the accessory to unleash a rapid-fire barrage on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 and wounding hundreds of others. The attack prompted nine Republican senators to ask the Trump administration to reconsider an Obama-era decision to not pursue regulating bump stocks.
Trump’s order for new bump stock limits follows a recently finished Justice Department review of potential regulations on the devices that began in December.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms determined in 2010 that existing law prohibited it from regulating bump stocks because the devices are firearm parts rather than weapons in and of themselves. The ATF began seeking public comments on potential regulations in December, but the issuance of new regulations on the devices is likely to require further work by the Justice Department.
A spokesperson said the department “understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process.” The spokesperson added: “We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed.”
At the White House briefing on Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration had not “closed the door” on supporting a ban on assault-style rifles like the one allegedly used by Nikolas Cruz in Parkland.
Sanders was pressed during the White House on whether the president still backed blocking the sale of such weapons, as he had proposed in book his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.”
“I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front,” she replied.
Sanders added that the administration was open to discussing a federal age restriction for those seeking to purchase AR-15 assault weapons.
“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up,” she said.
Nearly two decades ago Trump wrote that while he “generally” opposed gun control, he was in favor of banning assault weapons. But he has since shifted his stance, arguing in his 2015 book, “Crippled America,” that too often detractors used “scary descriptive phrases” to push bans on assault-style rifles.
Trump irked gun control advocates when he failed to mention the weapon used in Florida during his national address in response to the shooting last week. The White House opted instead to emphasize the need to improve mental health and school safety.
But the administration’s decision to signal support for a narrow bipartisan proposal to improve the federal background check database left some congressional advocates of gun control hopeful of a political tide shifting in their direction.
The White House on Tuesday also downplayed Trump’s stinging rebuke of the FBI response to the Florida shooting over the weekend, when he suggested the bureau missed signals that Cruz had the potential of carrying out a school shooting because it was “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”
“I think he was speaking not necessarily that that is the cause,” Sanders said at the press briefing, the first in a week. “I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people.”
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