By MARSHA MERCER
Even in this wildly unpredictable White House, President Donald Trump’s call for “beautiful” and “comprehensive” gun control was a Believe It or Not! moment.
“I think it’s time that a president stepped up,” Trump declared Wednesday at a televised meeting on school safety with members of Congress at the White House.
“We want to pass something great, and to me the something great has to be where we prevent it from happening again,” he said.
It is the mass shooting of children in American schools.
The Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, could be a tipping point in the long-stalled gun control movement. Unless it isn’t.
Sadly, we’ve been here before. After 20 children and six adults were gunned down in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama tried to expand background checks to all gun purchases, among other measures.
The National Rifle Association resisted, congressional Republicans and some Democrats balked, and nothing changed.
This time, though, while politicians talk, big business is taking action.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart announced Wednesday they will no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21. Dick’s will no longer sell assault-style rifles, a move Walmart made in 2015.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Dick’s Sporting Goods Chairman and CEO Edward W. Stack said.
Walmart said in a statement: “Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way.”
Many familiar brands, including Avis, Hertz, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, have dropped NRA discount programs.
“The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member,” the NRA said in a defiant statement.
The Florida shooter had bought a shotgun at Dick’s last November. The gun was not used in the school massacre; he used an AR-15, a semiautomatic. “But it could have been,” Stack wrote.
A troubled 18-year-old in Vermont bought a shotgun from Dick’s Feb. 13 and had plans for “shooting up” his high school. A17-year-old girl, concerned about his threatening texts, showed her phone to a high school guidance counselor who called authorities. The would-be mass murderer has been charged and is in jail.
Trump’s relationship with the NRA, which claims 5 million members, is conflicted. In his 2000 book “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote: “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”
The NRA spent an unprecedented $30 million to elect him, and he reassured NRA members at their convention last year: “I will never, ever let you down.”
There’s “no bigger fan” of the NRA than he, but “That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything,” he said Wednesday. And he chided lawmakers for bowing to the NRA.
“They do have great power. . . They have great power over you people. They have less power over me,” he said. “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified.”
Trump said he wants expanded background checks and is open to raising the age for buying assault-style rifles to 21. He wants police to be able to confiscate guns from mentally ill people, although that would be constitutionally dubious.
"Take the guns first, go through due process second,” he said.
He promised an executive order to ban bump stocks, attachments that make a semi-automatic rifle act like a machine gun, and urged ending “gun free school zones” and arming school personnel.
“I would rather have a comprehensive bill,” he said. “It would be really nice to create something that’s beautiful.”
If he actually follows through, Trump could go down in history as the president who led the nation in stopping gun violence. Or he could pivot.
In a White House meeting on immigration in January. Trump promised to sign whatever compromise Congress passed. Then the White House torpedoed bipartisan legislation.
It’s easy to imagine a repeat with guns.
The student-led #NeverAgain movement is changing the way Americans think about gun rights and the gun lobby. Corporations and consumers are finally saying “Enough” to mass killings. Bravo.
Now politicians in Washington need to conquer their fear of the NRA and act to save lives.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.