Trump gives base-pleasing NRA speech, teasing 2020 pitch
President Donald Trump on Friday made a campaign-style speech to one of his most loyal political constituencies — gun rights activists — as he delivered his fifth consecutive speech to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting.
In dramatic fashion, Trump announced that he would not ratify a United Nations arms trading treaty and then signed a message to the Senate in front of an audience of NRA leaders.
“The United Nations will soon receive a formal notice that the United States is rejecting this treaty,” the President said.
“As part of this decision, I will sign right now in front of a lot of witnesses, a lot, a message asking the senate to discontinue the ratification process and to return the now rejected treaty right back to me in the Oval Office where I will dispose of it,” Trump said.
He said the actions “reaffirmed that American liberty is sacred, and that American citizens live by American laws, not the laws of foreign countries.”
Trump then pulled out a pen and signed the document as the crowd cheered. After showing the audience, he said they all “want the pen.” The President then threw the “famous pen” to a member of the audience.
During his winding, hour-long speech, Trump touted declining national violent crime statistics following the start of his administration. He also appeared to reference the 2015 terror attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris, claiming that if just one person present at the 2015 concert had had a gun, fewer or even no people might have died that night.
“If there was only one gun — if there were two, three, four — it wouldn’t have happened, a tiny percentage by comparison,” Trump said.
He noted that “the shooting went on so long,” but “there was nothing” those present could do to stop the rampage.
“It probably wouldn’t have happened,” Trump said as he made the argument for allowing people more access to guns.
Trump praised state laws that allowed teachers to carry guns in classrooms.
“More than 30 states now allow teachers that are highly trained — highly trained, talented people — to carry guns in the classroom to protect themselves and to protect their students who they love. Who’s better? Who’s better? I’ve been calling for that for the last two years. I think we had a big impact,” Trump said.
He also highlighted several people who had intervened in attacks because they had been carrying firearms.
“Gun owners make our communities safer and they make our nation stronger,” Trump said.
The President also mocked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ statements on voting rights.
“You see what’s going on. ‘Let the Boston bomber vote.’ He should be voting, right? I don’t think so,” the President said at the meeting. “‘Let terrorists that are in prison vote.’ I don’t think so. Can you believe it? That this where some of these people are coming from? And they’re the most popular ones.”
Sanders had said during a CNN town hall earlier this week that felons should be allowed to vote, even if they’re still incarcerated.
Trump has maintained a close relationship with the gun lobby and its activists throughout his presidency after the group spent more than $30 million to help elect him in the 2016 presidential election, rejecting a push to reform the nation’s gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings in 2018. With 2020 on the horizon, Trump will once again be looking to the group to help galvanize gun rights supporters and bolster his reelection campaign.
But while the President will surely tout his administration’s efforts to maintain the status quo on gun rights, his speech also comes as he fumes about Democrats’ attempts to build a case that he obstructed justice based on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
A crowd of some of his most loyal supporters often drives the President to deliver a speech full of red meat and attacks on his political opponents.
Speaking last year during the 2018 midterm campaign, the President delivered a speech reminiscent of his campaign rallies that touched on a range of base-pleasing topics and included an airing of grievances relating to the special counsel’s investigation.
As he left the White House for the NRA’s meeting in Indianapolis, the President continued to rail against Mueller’s investigation and defend his actions.
Just as he denied ever directing his White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller — as McGahn and others testified — the President also maintained his right to do so.
“We had the absolute right,” Trump said.
He decried the special counsel as a “Trump hater” and turned once again to his favorite term, decrying Democrats’ inquiries following Mueller’s report as a “witch hunt.”
“We have to run a country,” Trump said. “This is a pure political witch hunt.”
CNN’s Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.