Trump tells NRA members ‘no one will lay a finger on your firearms’ if he returns to the White House
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump told thousands of members of the National Rifle Association that “no one will lay a finger on your firearms” if he returns to the White House, and bragged that during his time as president he “did nothing” to curb guns.
“During my four years nothing happened. And there was great pressure on me having to do with guns. We did nothing. We didn’t yield,” he said as he addressed the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Friday evening.
Casting himself as ”the best friend gun owners have ever had in the White House,” Trump pledged to continue to protect gun owners’ rights, even as the country grapples with a crisis of gun violence and mass shootings that have left more than 3,000 dead since 2006.
“Your Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your president,” he said.
Fresh off another dominant win in the Nevada caucuses Thursday night, Trump used the NRA forum to highlight his support of gun rights, a major priority for GOP voters. The issue is also a major motivator for Democrats as well as younger voters who grew up participating in active shooter drills and have witnessed a spate of school shootings in recent years.
Next week will mark the sixth anniversary of one of those shootings, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
Trump grappled with Parkland and other mass shootings as president, and at times pledged to strengthen gun laws, only to back away from those vows.
At a meeting with survivors and family members of the Parkland shooting in 2018, Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks” and later scolded a Republican senator for being “afraid of the NRA,” claiming he would stand up to the gun lobby and finally get results on quelling gun violence.
But he later retreated after a meeting with the group, expressing support for modest changes to the federal background check system and for arming teachers, while saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that there was “not much political support (to put it mildly).”
In December 2018, his administration banned bump stocks, the attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns and were used during the October 2017 shooting massacre in Las Vegas.
TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s reelection campaign, accused Trump of placating the gun lobby Friday night and said “the American people are the ones who will suffer and die if he’s allowed anywhere near the Oval Office again.”
Trump’s appearance Friday in the critical swing state came as the Republican nominating contest that he has been dominating turns toward South Carolina. The state’s Feb. 24 primary may prove the last chance for Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining rival, to blunt the former president’s march toward the nomination. He and Haley will hold dueling campaign events there this weekend.
Trump hopes that a commanding win in the first-in-the-South race will deliver a devastating blow to Haley, who has yet to win a GOP contest. Haley, who was elected South Carolina’s governor twice, is betting that a home state advantage will lift her to a strong performance that could keep her in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5, when more than a dozen states will hold contests awarding a massive swath of the delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination.
“We’re leading everybody,” Trump said late Thursday following his Nevada victory. “Is there any way we can call the election for next Tuesday? That’s all I want.”
Trump had no competition in Nevada after Haley chose to skip Thursday’s caucuses to participate in an earlier primary that offered no delegates. But even without Trump on that ballot, Haley came in a distant second, swamped by GOP voters who picked a “none of these candidates” option.
Beyond Haley’s embarrassing Nevada defeat, Trump had an especially fortuitous week.
On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court seemed weary of attempts to kick him off the 2024 ballot under the Constitution’s Insurrection Clause. Both conservative and liberal justices voiced skepticism during a hearing over Colorado’s decision to disqualify Trump from its primary ballot because he refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election, which culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Hours later, special counsel Robert Hur released a long-awaited and bitingly critical report that concluded criminal charges against President Joe Biden were not warranted but said there was evidence Biden willfully retained and shared highly classified information when he was a private citizen, including documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan. The report repeatedly pointed to Biden’s hazy memory in language that has raised new concerns about the president’s competency and age — a top concern for voters.
The findings will almost certainly blunt Biden’s ability to criticize Trump over his handling of classified documents. Trump was charged by a different special counsel, Jack Smith, for illegally hoarding classified records at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida after he left office and then obstructing government efforts to get them back.
Despite abundant differences between the cases, Trump, who insists he did nothing wrong, on Friday cast the decision to charge him and not Biden as “nothing more than selective prosecution of Biden’s political opponent: me.”
“Trump was peanuts by comparison,” he claimed.
Trump’s speech to the NRA — his eighth, according to the group — comes as the former political juggernaut has played a diminished role this election cycle amid financial troubles, dwindling membership and infighting.
The group’s longtime CEO, Wayne LaPierre, resigned last month ahead of a trial in New York over allegations that he treated himself to millions of dollars in private jet flights, yacht trips, African safaris and other extravagant perks at the powerful gun rights organization’s expense.
The New York attorney general sued LaPierre and three co-defendants in 2020, claiming widespread misspending and self-enrichment. The organization filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, but a judge rejected the move.
___ Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report from Des Moines.
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