President Donald Trump on Friday linked the sanctity of the Second Amendment to his party’s prospects in the 2018 midterm elections, telling supporters at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention that “we’ve got to get Republicans elected”.
Trump struck a tough tone months after he briefly strayed from the NRA’s message in the days after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
He vowed that the Second Amendment will “never ever be under siege as long as I am your president”.
All of us here today are united by the same timeless values. We believe that our liberty is a gift from our creator, and that no Government can ever take it away. We believe in the rule of law - and we support the men and women of law enforcement. We have pride in our history... pic.twitter.com/eONj1Y8oju— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2018
Trump’s speech in Dallas was his fourth consecutive appearance at the NRA’s annual convention.
His gun comments were folded into a campaign-style speech, which touched on the Russia probe, the 2016 campaign, illegal immigration and his efforts in North Korea and Iran.
Trump said Democrats wanted to “outlaw guns” and said if the nation took that step, it might as well ban all vans and trucks because they were the new weapons for “maniac terrorists”.
The speech came as the issue of gun violence has taken on new urgency after one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
Student survivors of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 people dead, are now leading a massive national gun control movement. They too are looking to the midterm elections for action.
Though Trump embraced the Second Amendment right to bear arms before Friday’s speech, he had temporarily strayed from the strong anti-gun control message in the wake of the shooting.
While the shooting has not led to major changes from the White House or the Republican-led Congress, it did — at least briefly — prompt Trump to declare that he would stand up to the powerful gun lobby. He later backpedalled on that tough talk.
Trump referenced the Parkland shooting in his speech, saying he “mourned for the victims and their families” and saying he has taken steps on school safety.
He noted that he signed a recent spending bill that included modest provisions to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases and money to improve school safety.
He also repeated his support for “letting highly trained teachers carry concealed weapons”.
Asked earlier this week why Trump was attending the convention, given the current political tensions around gun violence, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said safety was a “big priority”.
But, she added: “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.”
Trump said some people had advised him that attending might be controversial, but added: “You know what I said? ‘Bye-bye, gotta get on the plane’.”
Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA, which spent millions of dollars in support of his presidential campaign.
The NRA showcased its high-profile guests for the event, with NRA executive director Chris Cox saying on Twitter: “We are honored to celebrate American Freedom with @realDonaldTrump, @VP Mike Pence and others. #2A #watchtheleftmeltdown”.
But one of the Parkland student survivors, David Hogg, was critical of Trump’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,” Hogg said. “It proves that his heart and his wallet are in the same place.”
Kristin Brown, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said 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.
Several groups announced plans to protest over the weekend. The protesters will include parents of those killed in Parkland and in other shootings.