President Trump surprised many when he gathered a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House and called on them to pass a comprehensive gun control bill comprised of many proposals opposed by the gun lobby.
That announcement caught Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner off guard.
“As I’ve said many times over the last year, nothing that comes out of this White House surprises me, but this might be the first time I’m pleasantly surprised.”
But later in the week the president invited leaders from the NRA to the White House and he seemed to walk away from his call for new gun control measures, which Warner says is disappointing and destroys the momentum that seemed to be building.
“His second position was not as surprising since time and again, whether it’s guns, whether it’s Dreamers, the president for a while puts out a reasonable position until he gets pressure, and then he flips back," Warner said. "And it makes it really hard to try to build bipartisan coalitions to actually solve some of these problems when the president doesn’t keep a consistent position.”
Trump’s most consistent position has been his call to raise the age for purchasing some firearms from 18 to 21. That put many vulnerable, suburban Republicans, like Northern Virginia's Barbara Comstock, in an awkward position. We ran into her off the House floor last week and she told us she had yet to hear about what was arguably the most talked about proposal in Washington. "I haven’t seen it. I need to take a look,” Comstock said.
Other Virginia Republicans are more willing to discuss guns. Earlier this session the House passed a bill to tighten up some reporting loopholes in the current federal background check system, which has broad support. But it became controversial when it was combined with a bill to allow people with concealed carry permits in their home state to legally bring their guns into other states with tighter gun laws.
Virginia Beach-area Republican Scott Taylor supports both bills but he says they should be separated so that the background check bill can pass. “If we need to separate them to be able to get that done to be able to make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns don’t have them I’m all for it.”
But unlike many Republicans from across the nation, Taylor says the rush to overhaul US gun laws is misguided. "I try to take a pause and not get swept up in the emotions because it's easy to do obviously because people are upset, rightfully so. They want to see action. I'm a staunch supporter of the second amendment.”
Taylor says he still needs to see the final report on why the Parkland gunman wasn’t investigated after he was reported to the FBI. “The reality is, what really happened there? Where were the flaws? Where were the signs that were exhibited and then not acted upon? And there were systematic failures at all levels of law enforcement.”
Taylor is looking at one potential legislative fix. He says he’s exploring ways to empower family members to temporarily remove guns from relatives who are exhibiting disturbing signs. “So, I'm actually researching something right now that would be similar to like a restraining order, where you could, in extremis, in a family member or someone close, present evidence to a judge and say 'Hey, listen. This guy shouldn't get guns.' The that should go right to the FBI database, temporary hold. He or she could, of course, defend themselves, just like a restraining order thing. You know, I think we have to empower individuals more.”
Next week the House is set to take up a bill to add additional safety and training at the nation’s schools. While southwest Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith opposes many of the gun control proposals floating around the Hill, he says school safety should remain the number one concern for members of both parties. "Well, I think we have to take a look at the whole circumstance and try to figure out what we can do to try to make our students safer. And, you know, I have three school age children so obviously it's a great concern."
The school safety bill is focused on educating students to see warning signs and doesn’t address gun control at all, which critics say is ignoring the problem.