President Donald Trump gives the thumb’s up on improving federal background checks. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Advocates on both side of the gun debate criticized the president’s potential support for legislation bolstering the federal background check system in the wake of a shooting at a high school in southern Florida.
Gun Owners of America Executive Director Erich Pratt expressed disappointment over the White House statement and encouraged President Donald Trump to eliminate gun free zones instead — a position Trump has touted since the 2016 campaign trail.
“While the nation still has yet to see an actual statement by President Trump on the Fix NICS bill, we would hope that he would not join anti-gun Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer in supporting it,” Pratt said in an email to Guns.com Tuesday. “We strongly agree with the President’s prior position on eliminating gun-free zones. And we hope that President Trump will veto any congressional response to the recent tragedy in Florida, which does not repeal the dangerous gun-free school zones law.”
The Fix NICS Act, filed a week before Thanksgiving, incentivizes states and federal agencies to promptly report disqualifying records to the FBI so firearms don’t fall into the wrong hands — and punishes those who don’t. Strengthening the effectiveness of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — the database gun dealers use to verify a buyer’s identity and criminal history — dominated the congressional debate last year after a former Airman murdered 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in early November.
White House officials said Monday Trump spoke with Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the prime sponsor of Fix NICS, last week. The apparent softening of the president’s tone follows a weekend spent meeting with survivors of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead.
“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” administration officials said in a statement to reporters on Monday.
Trump’s potential support for the bipartisan measure didn’t score many points with gun control groups either. Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt said Monday passing Fix NICS is a “step forward” — albeit a small one.
“If all Congress does is pass the Fix NICS Act, then lawmakers will have failed to meet this moment and do their job,” he said. “Congress needs to do much more, starting with legislation to require criminal background checks on every gun sale — supported by 95 percent of Americans.”
In a fateful turn of events, Gays Against Guns protesters were fresh off a “bloody Valentine” demonstration outside of Cornyn’s office in Washington, D.C. when news of the Florida shooting broke.
The group, there to protest the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, targeted Cornyn and other senators who endorsed the proposal last year.
“The time for politeness on this issue is over,” the group said in a Feb. 16 Facebook statement encouraging fellow activists to join their campaign. “It’s time for people who are deeply angered by our epidemic of gun violence to start putting bodies on the line. Getting arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience may seem scary but it’s not as scary as more guns in more hands in more places everywhere in the U.S. Our Congress is letting us die, shooting after shooting, for $$$ from the NRA.”
The National Rifle Association did not respond to request for comment from Guns.com Tuesday.
Gun Owners of America, however, suggests guns would do more to prevent school shootings than anything offered in the Fix NICS Act.
“Arming teachers and school administrators is a policy that is supported by 81 percent of police officers, and by mass shooting survivors like Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (Columbine) and California Officer Rob Young (Stockton),” Pratt said.
The FBI admitted over the weekend the agency failed to investigate a tip received Jan. 5 from “someone close to the shooter” in Florida regarding his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
“We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”
The gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, reportedly bought the AR-15 used in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, more than a year ago — well before the FBI tip.
“We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” Wray said. “All of the men and women of the FBI are dedicated to keeping the American people safe, and are relentlessly committed to improving all that we do and how we do it.”
Even NRA board member and rocker Ted Nugent weighed in Monday, blaming the federal government’s incompetency — not background checks — for the mass shootings in Texas and Florida.
“When the U.S. Navy fails to report more than 10,000 dangerous criminal dishonorably discharged punks to the national instant check system the problem isn’t the NICS the problem is the government,” he said via Facebook. “Unlimited firepower has always been available to American citizens but the connection between the FDA engineered opiate epidemic & the criminal insanity of prescribing mind altering pharmaceuticals to children & the exploding acts of evil violence is deep into the land of the bizarro.”
He described the FBI’s failure to investigate the tip about Cruz “condemnable malfeasance.”
“Go ahead write a law that would stop the shootings,” he said. “I dare you. Impossible.”