UPDATE | Trump tells NRA, elect Republicans to save gun rights


DALLAS (AP) — Months after the horror of the Parkland school shootings in Florida, President Donald Trump stood before cheering members of the National Rifle Association today and implored them to elect more Republicans to Congress to defend gun rights.

Trump claimed 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."

"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."

Activists energized by shootings at schools, churches and elsewhere are also focused on those elections.

In the aftermath of the February school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 dead and many more wounded, Trump had temporarily strayed from gun-rights dogma.

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

He was clearly back in the fold at the NRA's annual convention, pledging that Americans' Second Amendment right to bear arms will "never ever be under siege as long as I am your president."

Trump briefly referenced the Parkland shootings in his speech, saying he "mourned for the victims and their families" and noting he signed a spending bill that included provisions to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases as well as add money to improve school safety.

He also repeated his strong support for "letting highly trained teachers carry concealed weapons."

Trump's speech in Dallas was his fourth consecutive appearance at the NRA's annual convention.

1:53 p.m.

DALLAS (AP) — Taking a break from the escalating pressures of the Russia probe and the Stormy Daniels case, President Donald Trump returned to his supporters at the National Rifle Association's annual convention today.

Trump, speaking on Air Force One on the way to the event in Dallas, called the NRA a "truly great organization that loves this country."

His with the NRA came after he temporarily strayed from their strong anti-gun control message in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. – only to later return to the fold.

Last year, Trump became the first sitting president to appear in more than 30 years, declaring that the "assault" on the Second Amendment had ended. 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.

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 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 in support of his presidential campaign. The NRA showcased its high-profile guests for the event, with NRA Executive Director Chris Cox saying on Twitter: "We are honored to celebrate American Freedom with @realDonaldTrump, @VP Mike Pence and others. #2A #watchtheleftmeltdown"

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