Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case

Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case
By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A legal fight over a New York City handgun ordinance that could give the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority a chance to expand gun rights goes before the nine justices on Monday in one of the most closely watched cases of their current term.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments starting at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) in a legal challenge backed by the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby group to a regulation that had prevented licensed owners from taking their handguns outside the confines of the most-populous U.S. city.

It is the first major gun case to come before the Supreme Court since 2010.

Three local handgun owners and the New York state affiliate of the NRA – a national lobby group closely aligned with President Donald Trump and other Republicans – argued that the regulation violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

New York City’s regulation was amended in July to loosen the restrictions at issue in the case, but the Supreme Court opted to proceed with the arguments anyway. The justices have said they will consider during the arguments the city’s contention that the change in the regulation has made the matter moot.

Outside the white marble courthouse, hundreds of gun control supporters held a demonstration and carried signs including some reading, “Why are guns easier to buy than a college education?” “Gun laws save lives” and “2nd Amendment written before assault weapons were invented.”

Maryland resident Christina Young said such laws need to reflect modern society, including mass shootings.

“I have an 11-year-old daughter. I never had to worry about guns in my school when I was a kid,” Young said.

Amid the crowd, one gun rights supporter held high a large sign demanding Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates have expressed concern that the court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, could use the legal battle over a now-loosened gun control regulation unique to one city to issue a ruling widening gun rights nationwide.

Such a ruling could jeopardize a variety of firearms restrictions passed in recent years by state and local governments across the country, including expanded background checks and confiscations of weapons from individuals who a court has deemed dangerous, according to these advocates.

The dispute centers on New York City’s handgun “premises” licenses that allowed holders to transport their firearms only to a handful of shooting ranges within the city, and to hunting areas elsewhere in the state during designated hunting seasons.

The plaintiffs filed suit in 2013 after they were told by authorities they could not participate in a shooting competition in New Jersey or bring their guns to a home elsewhere in the state. The Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the regulation advanced the city’s interest in protecting public safety and did not violate the Second Amendment.

GUN CONTROL LAWS PROLIFERATE

Gun control is a contentious issue in the United States, which has experienced numerous mass shootings. Since 2013, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted more than 300 gun control laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Republican opposition in Congress has been instrumental in thwarting passage of new federal laws.

New York City officials have argued that controlling guns in public takes on particular urgency in the most densely populated urban center in the United States, where the potential for violence, accidents or thefts is heightened.

The regulation dated back to 2001 when New York police tightened handgun transport rules because officers had observed license holders improperly traveling with loaded firearms or with their firearms far from any authorized range.

The city argued that the rule did not prevent training as there are plenty of ranges at which to practice within the city, and individuals could rent firearms at competitions farther afield. The rule also did not prevent homeowners from keeping a separate handgun at a second home outside the city.

The Supreme Court had avoided taking up a major firearms case since 2010, when it extended to state and local regulations a 2008 ruling that recognized for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

The challengers have said that the history and tradition of the Second Amendment makes clear that the right extends beyond the home. They also are asking the Supreme Court to require lower courts to more strictly review gun curbs, with an eye toward striking them down.

The court’s ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Bronx man, battling own legal woes, brings gun rights case to U.S. Supreme Court

Bronx man, battling own legal woes, brings gun rights case to U.S. Supreme Court
By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two weeks before Efrain Alvarez and his attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their challenge to a New York City regulation that limited where licensed handgun owners could transport their weapons, police officers showed up at his Bronx apartment and took away all his firearms.

The officers walked past the bullet-making equipment in his cluttered entranceway and past the trophy deer head hanging on his living room wall. From two imposing steel vaults in the back bedroom, they confiscated around 45 firearms, including five handguns.

“I’m still numb about it,” the 64-year-old retired city bus driver said of the August 2018 seizure. “It’s my lifelong collection.”

The officers arrested Alvarez, and he was charged with filing a false police report over a claim that one of his handguns had been stolen, a misdemeanor. As a result, Alvarez said, the very handgun license whose transport restrictions he is challenging has been suspended for the second time this decade.

The legal battle over the New York measure is the biggest gun rights case at the Supreme Court since 2010, with the justices set to hear arguments next Monday. The challenge is backed by the National Rifle Association, an influential gun rights lobby group closely aligned with Republicans including President Donald Trump, a fellow New Yorker.

The regulation restricted transport of handguns by licensed owners to shooting ranges within city limits but allowed hunting during designated seasons. The lawsuit claims the measure violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

After the regulation was amended in July to allow for transporting handguns outside New York City, city officials unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to drop the matter and cancel the arguments, asserting that the case was moot.

The state’s NRA affiliate, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, filed the lawsuit in 2013 with Alvarez and two other gun owners as plaintiffs, after authorities told the men that the regulation prevented them from participating at a shooting competition in New Jersey or bringing their guns to second homes elsewhere in the state.

Alvarez said he joined the suit because he thought it was ridiculous that he could own a handgun but not travel to compete with it.

In the lawsuit, he and the two other gun owners are described as “law-abiding residents of New York City.” Alvarez does not think his own legal troubles make it awkward or inappropriate for him to challenge the regulation.

“My suspension has nothing to do with my fight in court,” Alvarez said in an interview.

Alvarez also said he accepted a deal last week offered by the Bronx district attorney’s office to drop the charge in six months if he is not arrested again.

Asked about Alvarez’s arrest and license suspension, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Brian Stapleton, said it was the first he had heard of it.

“It has no impact on this case whatsoever,” Stapleton said.

Describing himself as a supporter of gun control measures like strong background checks, Alvarez said he hopes the ruling in his case does not undermine other firearms restrictions.

“If a bad apple grabs a gun and he does something stupid, it kind of falls on me because I’m part of what’s going on. So it would kind of hit a sore spot,” added Alvarez, who said he admires the NRA but disagrees with some of its policies.

SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court found that the regulation did not violate the Second Amendment and advanced the city’s interest in protecting public safety.

The Supreme Court in 2008 found for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense. In 2010, the court extended that right to state and local laws as well. But the justices have avoided ruling in a major firearms case since then, leaving open questions such as whether that right extends outside the home.

“I hope that they clarify that the right to posses a firearm outside the home is as important and fundamental as the right to possess one inside the home,” Stapleton said.

Gun control advocates fear that the conservative-majority Supreme Court could use the case to expand gun rights and threaten a wide array of gun control measures nationwide such as expanded background checks and “red flag” laws targeting the firearms of people deemed dangerous by the courts.

“I don’t think there’s any question that, if given the opportunity, the NRA and its allies will try to re-challenge laws that have already been upheld and certainly challenge any new laws,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director of litigation at Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control lobby group that receives funding from Democratic presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Born and raised in New York, Alvarez is affable and blunt. He has been a gun enthusiast since serving in the U.S. National Guard decades ago. He said he became an avid hunter and started competitive shooting, winning several awards.

His hobby extends to making bullets, reloading spent casings in a mini-workshop that fills the vestibule of his Bronx apartment. He polishes the casings, melts the lead, pours the molds and sets the bullet heads with a pull of the press.

Alvarez’s August 2018 arrest came after police said he falsely reported a .38 caliber revolver had been stolen by two men he claimed had fooled him by posing as police officers. The saga led police to suspend his handgun license and confiscate his firearms, he said. The New York Police Department declined to discuss Alvarez’s case.

“Everybody who owns a firearm in New York City should have the right to take that firearm to his property, and out of the city to go shooting,” Alvarez’s said. “We’re not looking for anything else as far as I’m concerned.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

NRA sues San Francisco over ‘terrorist organization’ label

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association (NRA) sued San Francisco on Monday, saying a declaration by the city’s Board of Supervisors that officials should limit businesses linked to the NRA because it is a “terrorist organization” was effectively a blacklist.

The confrontation follows heightened debate in the United States following a spate of mass shootings, including one last month at an El Paso Walmart in which 22 people were killed and about 24 wounded in the city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The NRA, a gun club and gun rights lobbying group with deep political influence, alleged in the suit that the city was violating its free speech rights for political reasons.

“This lawsuit comes with a message to those who attack the NRA: We will never stop fighting for our law-abiding members and their constitutional freedoms,” Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The resolution declares: “The National Rifle Association is a domestic terrorist organization’ whose advocacy is a direct cause of arming “individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism”.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani of the San Francisco board was confident the measure to limit city and county officials working with companies doing business with the NRA would stand up in court, according to the New York Times.

“It’s a resolution, it’s not an ordinance, it’s non-binding,” she told the newspaper.

It requires government officials to “assess the financial and contractual relationships with our vendors and contractors have with [the NRA],” and to “take every reasonable step to limit those entities who do business with the City and County of San Francisco.” It does not go into effect unless signed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The suit asks the court to “instruct elected officials that freedom of speech means you cannot silence or punish those with whom you disagree.”

“The Resolution does not try to hide it animus towards the NRA’s political speech, nor its animating purpose: to remove the NRA from the gun control debate,” said the suit, filed on Monday in the District Court for the Northern District of California.

Neither city officials nor a representative for the NRA were immediately available for comment.

(This has been refiled to fix typo in the lead.)

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Paul Tait and Philippa Fletcher)

Texas gunman who killed seven had previously failed background check for firearm

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The gunman who killed seven people and wounded 23 others in a rolling rampage across West Texas obtained an assault-style rifle despite failing a background check, state and law enforcement officials said on Monday.

The gunman, identified by police as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, carried out the shooting spree in the neighboring cities of Midland and Odessa on Saturday, a short time after he was fired from his trucking job. He called local emergency 911 responders and then an FBI tip line to make rambling statements, officials said.

In those calls, Ator did not threaten to commit violence, they said.

But he would soon go on to open fire on civilians and police officers in a roving series of shootings, at one point hijacking a U.S. Postal Service truck before dying in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement, police said.

It was the second mass shooting in Texas in four weeks, and the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, expressed frustration on Monday the suspect had a firearm.

“We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” Abbott said on Twitter.

Ator was rejected when he tried to buy a gun and his name was run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, John Wester, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told a news conference.

Authorities could not immediately say how he obtained a firearm, Wester added.

It also was not immediately clear when or why he had failed the background check. Online court records showed Ator had convictions in 2002 for criminal trespass and evading arrest.

But Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told a news conference on Monday that Ator’s past interactions with police in that area, where the gunman lived, were not serious enough to have legally prevented him from having a firearm.

President Donald Trump over the weekend called the Odessa-Midland shooter “a very sick person,” but said increased background checks on gun buyers would not have prevented many mass shootings in the United States in the past few years.

Democrats in Congress want to close loopholes that under federal law, allow certain people to sell firearms without requiring background checks, such as in sales conducted online, at gun shows or out of their homes.

Trump said last month he had spoken to the National Rifle Association gun rights group about closing loopholes in background checks but he did not want to take away the constitutional right to own guns.

PULLED OVER

Hours after he was fired from his trucking job and 15 minutes after he called the FBI tip line, Ator was pulled over in a sedan by Texas state troopers on Interstate 20 in Midland for failing to use a turn signal, police said.

Armed with an AR-type rifle, Ator fired out the back window of his gold-colored car, wounding one trooper. Then he drove away spraying gunfire indiscriminately, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

At one point, Ator abandoned his car and hijacked a U.S. postal van, mortally wounding the letter carrier, identified by officials as Mary Grandos, 29.

He shot seven people to death, leaving behind a trail of 15 crime scenes with 23 other people wounded in the rampage, officials said.

Three police officers were shot and wounded – one from Midland, one from Odessa and one state trooper – all in stable condition at hospitals.

Ator was later cornered by officers in the parking lot of a cinema complex in Odessa where he was shot and killed.

The FBI has scoured Ator’s home, Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI office in San Antonio, told a news conference on Monday.

“I can tell you the conditions reflect what we believe his mental state was going into this,” Combs said.

“He was on a long spiral of going down. He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went into that company in trouble. He’s probably been in trouble for a while,” Combs said.

The rampage came about a month after a gunman from the Dallas area killed 22 people on Aug. 3 at a Walmart store about 255 miles (410 km) west of Midland in El Paso, Texas.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Trump says ‘common sense things can be done’ on guns, wants NRA input

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday called for “common sense” solutions to address gun violence without mentioning what specific measures he would support and saying the views of powerful National Rifle Association lobbyists should be considered.

Thirty-one people were killed in two weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in attacks that shook the country and reopened a national debate on gun safety as Americans grapple with yet another mass shooting.

A week later, it remains unclear what, if any, specific steps the Republican president would back. Democrats are trying to galvanize public support for legislative action over what has been a contentious issue for years, even before Trump’s administration.

Trump earlier this week initially appeared to back background checks but then did not mention them in a public address on Monday that focused on mental illness and media culture. He later predicted congressional support for those background checks and blocking gun access to the mentally ill, but not for any effort to ban assault rifles.

He had promised to take action in early 2018 after 17 people were killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school but backed down after the NRA, a key financial donor to Republican politicians, weighed in.

On Friday, he appeared to want to balance any congressional action with the NRA’s views.

“I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country,” he wrote. “Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone.”

Trump said he had “been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.” The NRA, in a statement on Thursday, indicated it opposed further gun restrictions.

Congress is in recess but Trump said leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate were discussing expanding background checks for guns sales.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday rejected a plea from more than 200 mayors to call the Senate back early to consider gun legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said they had each spoken separately to Trump and that he had assured them he would review legislation that has already passed the Democratic-majority House.

The White House had said it would hold also a meeting with representatives from the technology industry on Friday to discuss violent extremism online. Trump is not scheduled to be at the White House for most of the day as he attends a fundraiser in the Hamptons in New York for his 2020 re-election campaign.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Trott)

Oliver North steps down as NRA president amid dispute over ‘damaging’ information

Images of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, Legislative Director Chris Cox and President Oliver North displayed during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting at the Indiana Convention center in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., April 27, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Lucas Jackson

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North will step down as president of the National Rifle Association, North said on Saturday, adding he was being forced out due to his allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.

In a letter read to the organization’s annual meeting in Indianapolis by an NRA board member, North, a conservative commentator best known for his central role in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, said he had hoped to run for re-election when his term ends on Monday.

“I am now informed that will not happen,” North said in the letter.

His departure came after NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre accused North of trying to oust him by threatening to release “damaging” information about him, according to a letter from LaPierre to NRA board members that was published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

NRA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the New York attorney general, Letitia James, opened an investigation into the group’s tax-exempt status, sending letters on Friday to the NRA and affiliated entities, including its charitable foundation, telling them to preserve relevant financial records.

James’ office confirmed she has launched an investigation related to the NRA, and that she has issued subpoenas as part of the investigation, but declined to comment further.

North, 75, who was named by the NRA as its president in May 2018, was a pivotal figure in the Iran-Contra affair involving secret sales of arms to Iran by Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration and the unlawful diversion of the proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels.

The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is by far the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States. It has worked closely with legislators to protect firearms manufacturers from liability for gun violence and pushed a ban on U.S. health officials from promoting gun control.

When North was appointed president of the organization, LaPierre hailed him as “a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader.”

But the pair have since fallen out, with LaPierre telling NRA board members in his letter on Thursday that North was seeking to humiliate him, discredit the NRA, and “raise appearances of impropriety that hurt our members and the Second Amendment” which gives Americans the right to keep and bear firearms, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

According to the newspaper, North sent board members a response to LaPierre’s letter later on Thursday in which he defended himself, said his actions were for the good of the NRA, and that he was forming a crisis committee to examine financial matters inside the organization.

North, long a hero to some on the political right, was convicted in 1989 of three felonies related to the Iran-Contra affair, but his convictions were overturned on appeal in 1990.

He later became a conservative radio talk show host and frequent commentator on conservative television networks.

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson in Indianapolis; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

NRA names Oliver North, known for Reagan-era scandal, as president

FILE PHOTO: US Marine Corps Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North speaks at an NRA convention in Dallas, Texas, U.S. May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association on Monday named as its next president retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a conservative commentator best known for his central role in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair.

The group named North following its weekend annual meeting in Dallas, where President Donald Trump vowed not to tighten U.S. firearms laws despite suggesting earlier this year that he would take on the NRA in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida school.

“Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader,” NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said in a statement. “In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our president.”

North, 74, who already serves on the NRA’s board of directors, was a pivotal figure in the Iran-contra affair involving secret sales of arms to Iran by Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration and the unlawful diversion of the proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels.

North, who was a White House National Security Council aide, set up a weapons pipeline to the rebels even though Congress had forbidden military aid to them. North was convicted of three felonies in 1989, but his convictions were overturned on appeal in 1990 because witnesses in his trial may have been influenced by congressional testimony he had previously given under a grant of immunity from prosecution.

North has been a conservative radio talk show host and frequent commentator on conservative television networks since.

He is stepping down from his commentary role at Fox News television, the NRA said in its statement.

The NRA said its current president, Pete Brownell, planned not to seek a second term. Brownell serves as CEO of Brownells Inc, a maker of firearm parts, accessories and ammunition.

The February massacre of 17 teens and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had seemed to mark a turning point in America’s long-running gun debate, sparking a youth-led movement for tighter gun controls.

Trump said in the days following the massacre that politicians have to disagree with the NRA “every once in a while.”

But since then, no major new federal gun controls have been imposed, although the Trump administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.

North, long a hero to some on the political right, lost as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 1994 after former first lady Nancy Reagan publicly said that North had a “great deal of trouble separating fact from fantasy” and “lied to my husband and lied about my husband.”

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

Protests for and against gun ownership expected at NRA meeting in Dallas

A cap and shirt are displayed at the booth for the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) – Police are bracing for a significant amount of protests for and against guns during the National Rifle Association’s meeting in Dallas this weekend following a spate of mass shootings, pro gun-control marches, and November’s congressional elections sharpening an always volatile debate.

An estimated 80,000 gun-lovers will be in the city for the NRA’s annual convention. President Donald Trump is expected to address the NRA leadership on Friday, the first day of the three-day meeting, and Vice President Mike Pence also is scheduled to attend the convention.

The powerful gun lobby, which boasts 5 million members, faces an invigorated gun-control movement this year that has sought to curb the NRA’s influence since a man shot dead 17 people at a Florida high school on Feb. 14.

Dallas police were hoping for the “highest level of decorum and civility” from the demonstrations, which will include a “die-in” protest outside the convention hall on Friday, when Trump is due to speak.

“We will not tolerate property destruction. We will not tolerate violent behavior,” Dallas Police Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The gun debate in America shifted after a 19-year-old former student used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Students who survived became national figures by calling for gun control legislation and a check on the NRA’s influence. Florida quickly passed a law raising the legal age for buying rifles and imposing a three-day waiting period on gun sales while also allowing the arming of some school employees.

Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway had even urged the NRA to find another city for its annual meeting. Caraway is calling on the NRA to discuss strategies that will curb gun violence.

“In Dallas, gun violence survivors, students and activists are laser-focused on harnessing the momentum from the recent March for Our Lives events to push for gun safety and create lasting policy reform,” said Cassidy Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the leading U.S. gun control groups.

Guns are banned from Friday’s leadership forum because of U.S. Secret Service protocol for protecting the president but elsewhere attendees will be able to carry weapons throughout “15 acres of guns and gear” exhibits at the convention center.

Across the street from the center, a coalition of six local gun rights groups plan to hold a counterprotest on Saturday that they expect to draw several hundred people. Participants are encouraged to openly carry sidearms, instead of rifles and body armor, in an effort to appear more approachable.

“Gun control supporters have gone largely unchallenged in the protest arena as of late,” the counterprotest’s organizers wrote on Facebook. “It is time to stand up peacefully and show the media that Gun Rights matter to Texans and that we are not just the fringe.”

Bipartisan support is increasing in favor of stronger gun regulations, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in March. Fifty-four percent of Americans support stricter gun control policies such as background checks on gun purchasers and banning so-called assault rifles.

(Reporting Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)

Trump throws gun purchase age to states, courts

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Sacconne during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said he would wait for the courts to rule before acting on raising the minimum age for some gun purchases, putting off one of the more contentious gun safety measures he had backed after the latest U.S. school shooting.

The proposal to raise the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21 was not part of a modest set of gun safety proposals announced on Sunday night by Trump administration officials, which included training teachers to carry guns in schools and improving background checks.

“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump has said he believes armed teachers would deter school shootings and better protect students when they happen. The idea, already in place in some states, is backed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby.

The Republican president, who championed gun rights during his 2016 campaign, vowed to take action to prevent school shootings after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

The modest fixes proposed by the White House stepped back from some of the more sweeping changes Trump had considered after the latest school shooting.

Some of the more controversial proposals, including raising the minimum purchase age or requiring background checks for guns bought at gun shows or on the internet, will be studied by a commission headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, administration officials said.

The Justice Department will also provide an unspecified amount of grants to states that want to train teachers to carry guns in school.

Asked why the age limit proposal was dropped from the administration plan, DeVos told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday that the plan was the first step in a lengthy process.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.

On arming teachers, DeVos said communities should have the tool “but nobody should be mandated to do it.”

Trump has also directed the Justice Department to write new regulations banning so-called bump stocks, devices that turn firearms into machine guns.

“Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!” Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)