Donald Trump is gearing up for an address to the National Rifle Association (NRA) as more than 70,000 members are expected in Texas for the group’s annual meeting.
It comes after the president temporarily strayed from the group’s strong opposition to tougher gun controls following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida — only to rapidly return to the fold.
He will speak at the event for the fourth year in a row. Last year, he became the first sitting president to appear in more than 30 years, declaring that the “assault” on the Second Amendment had ended.
But this year’s speech in Dallas comes as the issue of gun violence takes on new urgency after one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
Going to Dallas (the GREAT State of Texas) today. Leaving soon!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2018
Survivors of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead are leading a massive national gun control movement.
Several groups have announced plans to protest over the weekend during the NRA event. The protesters will include parents of those killed in Parkland and other shootings.
The survivors’ campaign has not led to major changes from the White House or the Republican-led Congress but Mr Trump did briefly declare he would stand up to the powerful gun lobby.
He later backpedalled, expressing support for modest changes to the background check system, as well as arming teachers.
His attendance at this year’s NRA convention was announced just days ago and came after Vice President Mike Pence was already scheduled to appear.
Asked why Mr Trump was attending, given political tensions around gun violence, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this week that safety was a “big priority”.
“We also support the Second Amendment, and strongly support it, and don’t see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association’s meeting,” she said.
Breaking news: The President of the United States will address the @NRA Convention in Dallas this Friday. We are honored to celebrate American Freedom with @realDonaldTrump, @VP Mike Pence and others. #2A #watchtheleftmeltdown— Chris Cox (@ChrisCoxCap6) May 1, 2018
Mr Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA, which spent about 30 million US dollars (£22 million) supporting his presidential campaign.
One of the Parkland survivors, David Hogg, was critical of the president’s planned attendance.
“It’s kind of hypocritical of him to go there after saying so many politicians bow to the NRA and are owned by them,” he said. “It proves that his heart and his wallet are in the same place.”
At a televised meeting with politicians in February, Mr Trump wagged his finger at a Republican senator and scolded him for being “afraid of the NRA”, declaring that he would stand up to the group and finally get results in quelling gun violence.
He praised members of the gun lobby as “great patriots” but declared “that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything”.
He said: “It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18.”
He was referring to the AR-15 the Parkland shooting suspect is accused of using.
After expressing interest in increasing the minimum age to purchase a so-called assault weapon to 21, Mr Trump later declared there was “not much political support” for the move.
He then pushed off the issue of age restrictions by assigning the question to a commission.
He ran as supposedly the best friend of the Second Amendment and has become gun grabber in chiefMichael Hammond for Gun Owners of America
Trump’s moves have drawn concerns from both sides of the gun debate.
“He ran as supposedly the best friend of the Second Amendment and has become gun grabber in chief,” said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel to the Gun Owners of America.
He said his members were upset Mr Trump had approved a spending bill that included background check updates. “We’re not confident at all. We are very disappointed,” he said.
Kristin Brown, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Mr Trump had offered mixed messages since the Parkland shooting.
“Which Donald Trump is going to show up?” she asked. “Will it be the one who sympathised with the Parkland students he brought to the White House, the one who met with members of the Senate … or the one who had burgers” with NRA head Wayne LaPierre.