After initially suggesting that teenagers shouldn’t be able to buy assault rifles — a rare admission for an NRA-backed politician to make — President Donald Trump now appears to be backing away from the proposal.
Multiple sources suggested earlier this week that Trump will be dropping his push to raise the age limits for purchasing weapons like the AR-15, which was used in the deadly school shooting that killed 17 individuals earlier this month at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Such a move would have made incongruent laws on gun purchases more reasonable — a person has to be 21 in order to buy a handgun in the state, while they can purchase assault rifles at the age of 18.
In addition to other public proclamations in favor of raising the age, Trump tweeted out his support for a federally-mandated rule regarding who can purchase those types of weapons.
I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
But a Republican source from within Congress seems to believe Trump is going to tone back his calls for a raise to the age limit. “He's obviously moving back from that,” the source told CNN.
Another source within the White House itself suggested the same. According to The Hill, that source questioned whether Trump could justify banning members of the military who are older than 18 but younger than 21 from owning assault rifles.
Not that raising the age limit would do much anyway. The average mass shooter, who typically purchases assault rifles like the AR-15 (and other accessories that make those weapons more dangerous than they already are), is around 34 years of age. It’s unclear, also, whether an 18 year old could legally purchase an assault rifle, even with the age limit being at 21, through use of the gun show loophole.
But Trump’s departure of the push to raise age limits is indicative of one thing: the NRA’s hold on him is very tight. Someone from the gun lobby may have reached out to the president, reminding him that his support of raising age limits could result in him losing their financial backing and general endorsement in the future, a threat they’ve made in the past to other politicians who have bucked the line on guns.
Just over a week has passed since a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 individuals dead and many more injured. In response, some lawmakers — including President Donald Trump — have signaled their support for raising the age to own assault rifles.
Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who killed his fellow classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, was able to purchase the AR-15 rifle while only being 19 years of age. In Florida, you must be 21 to purchase a handgun, but a loophole in the law allows anyone older than 18 to get assault rifles.
Trump has made his opinion known about his preference to raise the age restrictions, suggesting that even “the [National Rifle Association] NRA will back it and so will Congress.” Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida) has also voiced support for the proposal.
“Of course, we won’t all agree on every issue, but I do believe this is a moment when our state can come together around a commonsense set of actions,” Scott said on Friday.
Within the proposal made by Trump and Scott, as well as a handful of other Republicans backing the measure, comes a rare admission from the GOP: These types of weapons cannot be treated like ordinary guns.
Restrictions on AR-15s and other weapons like them should go further than raising the age limit. That the president has suggested raising the age at all is a recognition of the fact that these types of weapons do not deserve to be in the hands of certain individuals.
But raising the age limit shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. Most mass shooters are already over the age of 21, and Nikolas Cruz’s youth is more of a misnomer rather than the standard (the average age of shooters in 91 mass shootings is 34 years old). An age limit would have made it more difficult for him to get the type of weapon he wanted — but it wouldn’t have stopped others who have perpetrated similar shootings across the country.
Consideration should be given not only to age, but also to whether a potential gun owner is responsible enough to own an assault weapon in the first place. Standards like requiring two references to vouch for you, registering your weapon with local law enforcement, and ownership being subjected to a person's history of abuse or alcoholism, similar to how nations like New Zealand operate, should also be deliberated on.
Of course, we should also discuss whether weapons like these belong in the hands of any American. Militarized weapons are meant to be well-regulated, and the Second Amendment does not guarantee that ownership of all weapons is a right of the citizenry. Whether AR-15s and other assault rifles should be restricted outright is a debate well worth having.
A discussion such as this would be vigorous, and it deserves to be as much. But it must also be honest. Trump and Scott, as well as other Republicans, are admitting (whether they’re aware of it or not) that assault rifles are dangerous and pose a special kind of threat to the security of otherwise innocent citizens. They cannot ignore that threat any longer, and they must consider other options for further restrictions of these weapons.