Trump and Pence address NRA amid tense gun debate

President Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Dallas on Friday, the third year in a row he has addressed the gun lobby organization. (Susan Walsh/AP)

President Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Dallas on Friday, the third year in a row he has addressed the gun lobby organization. (Susan Walsh/AP)

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Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

President Trump and Vice President Pence spoke to the National Rifle Association in Dallas, Friday — renewing a political partnership that was briefly tested by the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Trump said he’d been warned by political advisers that appearing before the NRA might not be popular in the current climate. But he brushed those cautions aside.

“You know what I said? Bye-bye. Got to get on the plane,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “Because we have to do the right thing”

It’s the third year in a row Trump has addressed the gun rights organization, which was a strong backer of his 2016 campaign.

“The people in this hall have never taken our freedom for granted,” Trump said. “Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your second amendment.”

The friendly audience was a balm for the president, who’s been frustrated in recent days by fresh revelations about the hush money paid on his behalf to porn star Stormy Daniels.

“This country is right now running so smooth,” the president told reporters traveling with him to Dallas. “And to be bringing up that kind of crap and to be bringing up witch hunts, all the time, that’s all you want to talk about.”

Trump’s full-throated support for the NRA appeared to soften somewhat in February, after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school that killed 17 people. After meeting with families of some of the victims, Trump flirted with gun control measures the NRA opposes, such as raising the minimum age for long gun purchasers to 21.

At a White House meeting with lawmakers, Trump even criticized his fellow Republicans for their timid approach to gun control legislation, suggesting they were “afraid of the NRA.”

But the administration ultimately aligned itself with the gun lobby, rejecting all but the mildest gun control measures while endorsing the idea of arming teachers and other school employees to serve as volunteer marshals.

“The quickest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Pence said Friday, echoing a favorite NRA slogan.

Trump also adopted NRA rhetoric, noting that strict gun laws in France failed to stop the deadly attack on the Bataclan nightclub and other Paris venues in 2016. Researchers have noted that gun deaths in other developed countries are a tiny fraction of those in the U.S.

While state lawmakers in Florida adopted a higher age limit for gun buyers, action at the federal level was shunted to a new school safety commission, which has no deadline to report.

Trump stopped short of calling for universal background checks, though he endorsed a bill making improvements to the federal database used to screen would-be gun buyers. He also supported the Stop School Violence Act, which aims to identify troubled young people but makes no mention of guns.

The president did distance himself from one of the NRA’s top legislative priorities: a bill to make concealed-carry permits from any state valid nationwide. While the GOP-controlled House passed the measure, Trump argued it’s a non-starter in the closely divided Senate.

Trump has also encouraged states to pass so-called “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a threat to themselves or others.

“Law-abiding gun owners want to keep firearms out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves and to others,” Trump said Friday.

The NRA has opposed such laws in the past.

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