Friday, March 23News That Matters

Florida shooting: Trump backs off on assault rifle curbs

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White House proposals to tackle the threat of mass shootings in US schools fall short of a call by President Donald Trump himself to raise the age limit for buying assault rifles.

Mr Trump said he would work to raise the limit from 18 to 21 but his actual action plan passes the issue to a new federal commission on school safety.

The plan also proposes to fund firearms training for teachers.

Seventeen people were shot dead at a Florida high school last month.

Former pupil Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 of attempted murder.

He told investigators he had used an AR-15 assault rifle, which he had bought legally, to fire into classrooms during the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on 14 February.

How does the plan differ from Mr Trump’s proposal?

White House officials described the plan revealed on Sunday as a fulfilment of the president’s call for action after Parkland, the Associated Press reports.

As well as setting up the new committee, it proposes to:

  • Fund programmes to train school staff to use firearms
  • Encourage military veterans and retired police officers to become teachers
  • Improve background and mental health checks

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the new committee, said the proposals were “meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students”.

Speaking last month, President Trump had appeared indignant at the fact Americans could legally buy assault rifles from the age of 18 yet had to wait until 21 to buy handguns.

“I mean, so they buy a revolver – a handgun – they buy at the age of 21,” he told school officials.

“And yet, these other weapons that we talk about… They’re allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense? We’re going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18.”

Why might the president have changed position?

He has reportedly come under pressure from the country’s main gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), not to change existing legislation.

The NRA is suing Florida after it passed a state gun control law which raises the legal age for buying rifles to 21 as well as allowing for the training and arming of school staff.

According to the NRA, the bill signed off by Governor Rick Scott, a staunch ally of the gun lobby who like Mr Trump is Republican, violates the US constitution.

What do Mr Trump’s critics say?

Chuck Schumer, leader of the opposition Democrats in the Senate, went on Twitter to dismiss the action plan as “baby steps”.

Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said: “Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump’s dangerous retreat from his promise.”

Survivors of the Florida shooting have been pressing for a complete ban on sales of assault weapons to the public.

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