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President Trump And Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Discuss Gun Policy

Mar 1, 2018
Originally published on March 1, 2018 8:20 am
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President Trump took a lot of members of his own party by surprise yesterday when he suggested that he's ready to take on the NRA and fight for stricter gun control.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified.

MARTIN: Trump was meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers about how to prevent gun violence. At points, it appeared as if the president was learning in real time about the history of the gun debate in this country and the legislation that has been tried before. And he started suggesting things that drew shocked looks from around the room.


TRUMP: I like taking the guns early. Like, in this crazy man's case that just took place in Florida, he had a lot of firearms. They saw everything. To go to court would've taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.

MARTIN: President Trump also said he supports expanding background checks and restricting gun sales from some young adults. The House has already passed its own version of a bill that improves background checks. Republican Congressman Ryan Costello supports that. He represents a suburban district of Philadelphia, and he joins us now on the line.

Thanks so much for being with us, Congressman.

RYAN COSTELLO: Great to be with you. Good morning.

MARTIN: You were not in that meeting at the White House yesterday, but I imagine you watched the coverage of it. What'd you make of it?

COSTELLO: Well, there's still an element of unpredictability on what the White House is willing to lean in on from a gun safety reform measure. And there are - I think in your opening here, there was a little bit of a contradiction in what he said. My big concern here is that we end up talking about so much that we don't focus on the few areas where I think that there is some bipartisan consensus and that I think will move the country in the right direction on the issue.

MARTIN: So let's get into some of those. The president suggested several times yesterday that he wants to push for stricter background checks, even going as far as to say universal background checks. Do you think that's likely? Looks like we've lost the...

COSTELLO: I think that that...


COSTELLO: ...Is the - I think that that's the most likely area where we could do something big and get bipartisan consensus. So I'm optimistic that there is that possibility, yes. There are a number of Republicans that feel that way. I believe all Democrats feel that way. And the Toomey-Manchin bill out of the Senate is the best place to do that. You would add...

MARTIN: This is - we should just say, this is a bill that was sponsored by Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey - bipartisan bill back in 2013. You think that will be revived now.

COSTELLO: I do. And I would couple with that what's known as the Fix NICS bill. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has some holes in it. States don't necessarily have to upload the data. There're a lot of agencies out there that haven't done it. The Texas shooting was a result of the Air Force not getting the data into the system. What happened in Florida was a failure of existing law. We actually passed that out of the House, but it was coupled with a concealed carry reciprocity where one state, if - even if they have a lower threshold for getting a permit for a concealed carry could then take that concealed carry lawfully into another state. I voted against that bill because I didn't think that concealed carry (inaudible).

MARTIN: And we should just note...

COSTELLO: ...Reciprocity was appropriate. And, in fact, the president's...

MARTIN: You're on - Congressman, you're on kind of a tough line, so we should just acknowledge that for our listeners. But the president actually came out against that in this meeting. When Congressman Steve Scalise brought this up, the president said this is just something that's not going to pass.

COSTELLO: I agree with the president. And I voted against it for a number of reasons. But I agree. It should be decoupled, and we should do Fix NICS, and we should do background checks together or concurrent with one another.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, though, at one point, President Trump actually suggested that senators should push for an assault weapons ban, that that should be put into the Manchin-Toomey bill, which no one is even talking about in Congress as a real option because it is so anathema to Republicans. Did that confuse you?

COSTELLO: It did for a number of reasons. One, you had Senator Manchin say he doesn't believe that that will go anywhere. No. 2, I think everyone - we need to get a universal definition of what an assault weapon is. Some folks look at what weapons look like. Some hunting rifles actually end up having more capacities than what another person may deem an assault rifle. So that - I don't think that that's ultimately part of any package that we can pass, the House and Senate. That doesn't mean that I'm not open to looking at the issue. It just means to say, because we have so many different proposals bandied about, I'm not as optimistic on that one. But I do want to raise one other issue in this debate, and that is the Dickey Amendment, which - basically, we do not allow the Center for Disease Control to even study the issue of gun violence to get a better understanding of what generates these mass shootings and how we can go about...

MARTIN: You think that should change?

COSTELLO: I hope that it does. I've signed onto legislation with Democrat Stephanie Murphy from Florida. That's the other piece of the puzzle that I think where - it can be unifying for Republicans and Democrats because I think we've all identified some cultural issues out there - technology, the way our children are brought up - that we need to look at that. We need to examine that much closer.

MARTIN: Does the president need to get a coherent message? I mean, how can you get any of this done without presidential leadership? And it appears that the president doesn't know what his own priorities are.

COSTELLO: It's an excellent question, and the answer is yes. We do need a coherent, consistent message out of the White House, and we can't just be jumping around all over the place, flying off the handle, saying different things to different people. Coherence is extremely important if we're going to get a bipartisan consensus measure passed.

MARTIN: Congressman Ryan Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican. Thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

COSTELLO: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.