President Trump announced Tuesday he is moving to ban “bump stock” accessories for semi-automatic firearms, and that he’s considering other gun measures in the wake of last week’s mass school shooting in Florida.
Mr. Trump signed a directive ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft regulations banning “bump stocks” and other devices that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons. The president said the new federal guidelines will be finalized “very soon.”
“We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children,” Mr. Trump said at a White House event honoring law-enforcement officials with the Medal of Valor. “We’re working very hard to make sense of these events.”
The shooter who killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas last fall used bump stocks to fire more rapidly with at least two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
But Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old whom authorities say killed 17 people last week at the high school in Parkland, Florida, used an AR-15 that wasn’t equipped with a bump stock, a fact noted by numerous people on social media who criticized the president’s announcement.
Pointing to Mr. Cruz’s history of behavioral problems, the White House called him a “deranged killer” Tuesday and said Mr. Trump also wants to focus on improving mental-health services.
The developments came as Mr. Trump prepares to host a meeting Wednesday with parents, teachers and students affected by mass school shootings “to see what can be done better,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Mr. Trump will host representatives involved with the shooting last week in Parkland, Florida, as well as the shootings in 2012 at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Mrs. Sanders said the president will conduct a “listening session” to hear ideas to make schools safer.
“Everybody wants a quick and a simple answer; there isn’t one,” she said, adding that the discussion would touch on “a wide range of issues.”
Two new polls released Tuesday show strong support among voters for more gun regulations. A Quinnipiac survey showed that 66 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws; an ABC-Washington Post poll found that 77 percent of voters believe Congress isn’t doing enough, and 62 percent say the president isn’t, either.
The White House said Monday that Mr. Trump generally supports a bill in Congress that would promote greater compliance with a federal database that tracks individuals’ criminal records, to prevent them from purchasing firearms.
The president said he was “greatly moved” by meeting with victims of the school shooting and their families Friday night at a hospital in Florida. He said he was “heartbroken for the families whose loved ones were so cruelly torn from them forever — forever and ever.”
“We cannot imagine the depths of their anguish, but we can pledge the strength of our resolve,” Mr. Trump said.
Mrs. Sanders said Mr. Trump wants to take more action.
“No parent should ever have to wonder if their child will return home from school at the end of the day,” she said. “The president has expressed his support for efforts to improve the federal background check system, and in the coming days we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools.”
On Thursday, Mr. Trump will hosting local officials, including members of law enforcement, at the White House to pursue further solutions to school shootings and other gun violence. Next week, he’ll meet with the nation’s governors and other state officials at a previously scheduled conference that Mr. Trump said is taking on new urgency.
The president said he wants to discuss “implementing commonsense security measures and addressing mental health issues, including better coordination between federal and state law enforcement to take swift action when there are warning signs.”
“We must move past cliches and tired debates, and focus on evidence-based solutions and security measures that actually work and that make it easier for men and women of law enforcement to protect our children and to protect our safety,” Mr. Trump said.
In Florida, about 100 survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School made the 400-mile trek to the state Capitol in Tallahassee to push for more gun control laws.
But they got a quick disappointment as the state House rejected on a party-line vote a Democratic request to consider a ban on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines
Three committees had been assigned the bill but with no hearings scheduled, the effort was thereby ruled out of order and essentially killed for this legislative term.
“They’re voting to have shootings continually happen. These people who voted down the bill haven’t experienced what we did. I want to say to them, ‘It could be you,”’ 16-year-old Noah Kaufman told the Associated Press.
Of all the potential solutions on the table in Washington, banning bump stocks is one with perhaps the most consensus. The National Rifle Association said in October that the accessories “should be subject to additional regulations.”
But an NRA spokeswoman said Tuesday that the gun-rights group can’t comment until an actual rule is published with specifics for review.
“The NRA’s stance on this issue has not changed,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Baker. “Fully-automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the 1930’s, but banning semi-automatic firearms and accessories has been shown time and again to not prevent criminal activity and simply punishes the law-abiding for the criminal acts of others.”
The gun-control group Giffords said Mr. Trump’s move was “too little, too late.”
“Let’s be clear: what Donald Trump proposed today is not a sufficient response to the gun violence crisis that is killing America’s kids,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords. “Instead, Donald Trump is trying to escape blame by playing catch up with our kids’ safety. A real leader would have gotten Congress to pass a ban on bump stocks after the horror of Las Vegas — the worst mass shooting in modern American history.”
In December, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) started a rule-making process to try to clarify whether certain bump-stock devices would fall under the definition of “machine guns,” which are generally banned under federal law.
In the past, the agency had classified many of the devices as firearms accessories that aren’t subject to federal regulation, “either because the devices shot only one bullet per pull of the trigger, or because the devices did not appear to initiate a fully automatic firing cycle,” Acting ATF Director Thomas E. Brandon told Congress last year.
The public comment period for the process ended Jan. 25.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency “understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rule-making process. We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed.”
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said legislation rather than a regulation is needed to ban bump stocks due to the ATF’s statement to Congress in 2013 that it lacked the authority to take action.
“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. Legislation is the only answer,” she said. “Words are one thing, Mr. President, but we need meaningful action. If you want these devices off the street, call congressional Republicans and tell them to stop blocking our bill.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter wrote the ATF in 2013 asking the agency to rescind a 2010 letter in which it said a stock made by the company Slide Fire is a firearms “part” outside the scope of the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act.
The Colorado Democrat got a response saying that the ATF determined the Slide Fire stock and another model do not “provide an automatic action - requiring instead continuous multiple inputs by the user for each successive shot.”
Since the ATF said the products couldn’t convert a weapon to shoot automatically, they were not classified as machine guns, but rather “firearms components” outside the scope of federal gun rules.
It’s still an open question whether Mr. Trump’s move will actually result in changes, said Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, pointing to the Obama administration’s prior determinations that bump stocks couldn’t be regulated.
“It wasn’t that the Obama administration loved bump stocks, right? The Obama administration wanted to ban the bump stocks,” said Mr. Winkler, who has written about legal battles over the Second Amendment. “But the lawyers looking at it said honestly, there is no way we can do it.”
“So it is possible that the ATF will look back at it and say that they can’t do anything,” he said.
He also said that if the ATF determines they can make the changes, the issue could devolve into people crying politics.
“The ATF is in kind of a no-win situation right now,” he said.
Regardless, the action does not appear to line up with Mr. Trump’s pro-gun rhetoric from the campaign trail, said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.
“If President Donald Trump’s goal is to ban bump stocks, then that is a gross infringement of Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Pratt said, noting that his group has long warned that such a ban could be applied to triggers, magazines, or semi-automatic firearms.
Mr. Pratt said his group “remains committed to fighting any bump stock ban or regulation — including the use of legal action.”
As Washington gets more involved in the gun debate than it has in years, North Carolina officials are weighing whether to add volunteer armed guard to schools as a pilot program in the wake the Florida school shooting.
Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said the program is still in the development stage, but that he’s had “good conversations” about it with county schools superintendent Rodney Shotwell.
“If established, this program would act as an armed force multiplier to help protect our children and teachers in Rockingham County Schools against any persons that might seek to do them harm,” said Sheriff Page.
A state statute allows sheriffs to establish a “volunteer school safety resource officer program” involving former law enforcement or military police officers. People appointed by the sheriff would have the power of arrest while performing their duties.
The sheriff’s office would be the first agency to establish such a program in the state.
Other officials are pushing for stricter controls, like increasing the minimum age to buy an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21. Authorities have said Cruz bought the gun legally.
The Army is awarding medals for heroism to three students killed in last week’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Alaina Petty, Peter Wang and Martin Duque were cadets in the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and will receive the Medal of Heroism for their actions in last Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, the Army said Tuesday.
Ms. Petty’s family was presented with her medal at her funeral service Monday, and Mr. Wang’s family was to receive his medal at his service Tuesday. Mr. Wang was to be buried in his JROTC uniform, according to an Army spokesman.
Mr. Wang died in his JROTC uniform, shot repeatedly while holding open a door to let other students escape gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at the school.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point also is posthumously admitting Mr. Wang, 15, who had hoped to attend the prestigious academy.