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Trump Meets School Shooting Survivors


The victims of gun violence have been speaking out over the past few days, calling for tighter gun laws and, in some cases, railing against the NRA. Now, the National Rifle Association is responding. An executive for the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, delivered a defiant message this morning at a conservative conference just outside Washington.


WAYNE LAPIERRE: As usual, the opportunist wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain.

MARTIN: It was a departure from the more conciliatory tone coming from several prominent Republican leaders, including President Trump, all since the Florida school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people last week. Joining us now - NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who was watching that speech delivered by Wayne LaPierre. Hey, Mara.


MARTIN: What'd you make of that address?

LIASSON: Well, I thought it was pretty interesting. In some ways, it was the most - it was a distilled essence of Trumpism. He talked about how the elites look down on you. He spoke apocalyptically about what would happen if the NRA's opponents got into power. And even though I suspect Wayne LaPierre has given a version of this speech for many years and now even though he has a president in the White House who has more - who has echoed and adopted the NRA talking points on guns more closely than any other president, Wayne LaPierre still sounded a little defensive and worried to me. At one point, when he was warning about this new socialist wave of Democrats, he said I hear a lot of quiet in the room because people weren't clapping that much. He said, I sense your anxiety and fear.

MARTIN: I think we've got...

LIASSON: And here he is.

MARTIN: Yeah, we've got a clip of tape of this.


LAPIERRE: You should be anxious, and you should be frightened. If they seize power, if these so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate, and God forbid they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost, and our country will be changed forever.

LIASSON: And what was so interesting about that is he seemed worried that the room was quiet, and he knows that anger and fear are what motivate voters. And up until now, certainly through the Obama years, anger and fear was on the NRA's side because they were told that Obama was going to take away all their guns. They were intense. They were single-issue voters. Now, the other side, the gun control advocates, led by the students of Parkland, they're angry, and they're motivated. And the question that this week raises is who is going to have the passion in November.

MARTIN: Right, for the midterm elections.


MARTIN: So he got big picture. Did he get - LaPierre, did he get specific? I mean, when talking about - I caught a glimpse of it a little bit, and he said, oh, we talk about solutions. But aside from more good guys with guns, what is he proposing?

LIASSON: Well, good - more good guys with guns is the essence of the NRA program. However, he does talk about hardening schools, making them like airports. The NRA has something called a School Shield program that schools can call and get advice. He does believe in tighter background checks. That's really the one piece of consensus in this whole debate. He doesn't want universal background checks, doesn't want to close the gun show loophole, but he does want to make sure that everyone who's on the prohibited persons list would be prevented from buying a gun. As far as mental health goes, he said you'd have to be adjudicated mentally incompetent. And of course, that raises all sorts of civil liberties issues where sometimes the ACLU and the NRA are on the same side.

MARTIN: Right. So do any of what you just said, does any of that represent a shift for him? Or is it just the same thing the NRA has been saying?

LIASSON: I haven't seen anything that the NRA is talking about now, practically and legislatively, that they haven't already been for.

MARTIN: So meanwhile, the last 24 hours have been pretty remarkable when it comes to the debate over guns in this country. There was this town hall that CNN held last night. Senator Marco Rubio was there. He was the target of a lot of ire from the audience that was filled with survivors from the Parkland shooting and their families. I'm going to play a clip of tape here. This is a parent confronting Senator Rubio.


MARCO RUBIO: But I want to explain to you why it would not.



MARTIN: So that's a tense moment. There were many tense moments in this...

LIASSON: Yes, although I have to say that Rubio got credit from a lot of people at that town hall meeting for merely showing up. He knew he was going to be booed. The governor of Florida, for instance, didn't come. But Rubio was not only booed, a father of a Parkland victim called him pathetically weak. He was booed when he said he wouldn't agree to stop taking money from the NRA. But he did show movement on two things. One, he said he would support a bill raising the age at which you could buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21, and also that he'd consider his previous opposition to outlawing high-capacity magazines.

MARTIN: And we should just note the White House also had a listening session yesterday. President Trump met with victims of gun violence. So this is clearly something the president at least is talking about making some kind of move on.


MARTIN: We'll see if it actually happens. NPR's Mara Liasson - thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.