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Trump vows to support NRA, protect 2nd Amendment

Months after the horror of the Parkland school shootings in Florida, U.S. President Donald Trump stood before cheering members of the National Rifle Association on Friday and implored them to elect more Republicans to Congress to defend gun rights.

U.S. president's enthusiasm for age restrictions waxed and waned after Florida school shooting

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the NRA convention in Dallas on Friday. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Months after the horror of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, U.S. President Donald Trump stood before cheering members of the National Rifle Association on Friday and implored them to elect more Republicans to Congress to defend gun rights.

Trump claimed that Democrats want to "outlaw guns" and said if the nation takes that drastic step, it might as well ban all vans and trucks because they are the new weapons for "maniac terrorists."

He added that the Second Amendment — the portion of the U.S. constitution that allows gun ownership — will "never ever be under siege as long as I am your president."

"We will never give up our freedom. We will live free and we will die free," Trump said, as he sought to rally pro-gun voters for the 2018 congressional elections. "We've got to do great in '18."

Last year, Trump became the first sitting president to appear before the NRA convention in more than 30 years. But this year's speech comes as the issue of gun violence takes on new urgency after one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Though Trump embraced the Second Amendment before the assembly, he had temporarily strayed from the strong anti-gun control message in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Student survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead are now leading a massive national gun control movement. While the shooting has not led to major changes from the White House or the Republican-led Congress, it did — at least briefly — prompt Trump to declare that he would stand up to the powerful gun lobby. He later backpedaled on that tough talk.

Trump's attendance at this year's NRA convention in Dallas was announced just days ago and came after Vice-President Mike Pence already was scheduled to appear. Asked why Trump was attending, given the current political tensions around gun violence, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this week that safety was a "big priority." But, she added, "We also support the Second Amendment, and strongly support it, and don't see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association's meeting."

Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA, which spent about $30 million US in support of his presidential campaign. 

David Hogg, one of the most vocal Parkland student survivors, was critical of Trump's planned attendance.

"It's kind of hypocritical of him to go there after saying so many politicians bow to the NRA and are owned by them," Hogg said. "It proves that his heart and his wallet are in the same place."

Student David Hogg, left, walks to school with a large rolled banner over his shoulder on April 20, a day of national protests for tougher gun laws. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Mixed messages

During a televised gun meeting with lawmakers in late February, Trump wagged his finger at a Republican senator and scolded him for being "afraid of the NRA," declaring that he would stand up to the group and finally get results in quelling gun violence.

He praised members of the gun lobby as "great patriots" but declared "that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18." He was referring to the AR-15 the Parkland shooting suspect is accused of using.

Those words rattled some Republicans in Congress and sparked hope among gun-control advocates that, unlike after previous mass shootings, tougher regulations would be enacted this time. But Trump later retreated on those words, expressing support for modest changes to the background check system, as well as arming teachers.

After expressing interest in increasing the minimum age to purchase a so-called assault weapon to 21, Trump later declared there was "not much political support" for the move. He then pushed off the issue of age restrictions by assigning the question to a commission.

Trump's moves have drawn concerns from both sides of the gun debate.

"He ran as supposedly the best friend of the Second Amendment and has become gun grabber in chief," said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel to the Gun Owners of America. Hammond said his members were upset Trump had approved a spending bill that included background check updates. "We're not confident at all. We are very disappointed."

Trump met students and family members of the victims in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, on Feb. 21. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Kristin Brown, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Trump had offered mixed messages since the Parkland shooting.

"Which Donald Trump is going to show up?" she asked. "Will it be the one who sympathized with the Parkland students he brought to the White House, the one who met with members of the Senate ... or the one who had burgers" with NRA head Wayne LaPierre.

Several groups have announced plans to protest over the weekend. The protesters will include parents of those killed in Parkland and in other shootings.

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