With most Floridians focused on the Legislature’s struggles to pass a school safety bill, President Donald Trump has advanced the gun control debate nationally by embracing proposals to strengthen criminal background checks and raise the minimum age for buying rifles nationwide. It’s never certain whether this president will stick to his position or reverse course in a tweet, but for now there is a glimmer of hope in Washington for reasonable gun control. These steps would plug crucial gaps in gun laws regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, and they would bring the balance between gun rights and safety more in line with public opinion.
Trump’s remarks last week during a meeting with members of Congress that was broadcast live surprised both Republicans and Democrats. He supported a series of gun control measures long opposed by the National Rifle Association, calling for raising the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and expanding background checks to include buyers of weapons at gun shows, on the internet or through private sales. He also called for stronger approaches, including the expanded use of police power, to seize weapons from unstable individuals.
Just like Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, Trump refused to call for a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Just like state legislators, he joined the NRA in pushing to arm teachers in the schools — a terrible idea that would not make campuses safer. Still, increasing the age requirement for buying rifles and closing the loopholes on gun purchases are solid ideas that would enhance public safety. And by looking to Congress to change federal law, Trump is creating an opportunity to apply better safeguards at the national level.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who attended the session with the president, apparently was unmoved by Trump’s call. In a speech Thursday on the Senate floor, Rubio took a far narrower approach by calling for new federal grants to harden schools, crisis teams of teachers to better identify campus threats, new resources to crack down on straw gun buyers and fill gaps in the background reporting system, and court restrictions to remove guns from those suspected of posing a danger.
Virtually all of these measures Rubio embraced enjoy bipartisan support and are reflected in state legislation that advanced in Florida. To the extent his suggestions would enhance the federal response, agencies already have authority to correct many of these gaps in the system. Rubio suggested he is open to debating more serious measures, such as raising the age limits to buy a rifle and limits on high-capacity magazines. But that’s little more than acknowledging the broad public support for those changes rather than providing the leadership needed at this moment.
Trump tends to toss out proposals for dramatic effect, then switch positions when it suits him. But the president should continue to stand up to the NRA and encourage Congress to at least make these modest changes in raising the age limit for buying rifles and closing the so-called gun show loophole. Voters and prominent business leaders have made it clear they support those reforms, and they should keep making their voices heard.