Trump tells NRA in Atlanta: I will ‘come through for you’

Donald Trump at the NRA convention in Atlanta. AJC photo.

President Donald Trump pledged Friday that an “eight year assault” on gun rights was over, invoking many of his tried-and-true favorites from the campaign trail to a friendly crowd in Atlanta at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting.

As thousands of cheering supporters roared their approval, Trump pledged to put “America First” and guaranteed a wall would be built on the U.S. border with Mexico. And he drew the loudest applause when he showered the NRA with praise for supporting him in last year’s race.

“You came through for me,” he said, “and I am going to come through for you.”

Outside the Georgia World Congress Center, scores of protesters welcomed the president with demonstrations across town targeting the Republican’s embrace of the gun rights group. Many were eager to remind him of the disparaging remarks he made in January about Atlanta.

Inside the cavernous convention hall, Trump tried to rev up conservatives who formed the backbone of his November victory. He recalled how pundits and the media predicted he would be trounced at the polls. And he declared that the threat to “Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

“No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners,” he said. “No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and freedoms as Americans.”

It was Trump’s first trip to Georgia since his presidential victory, and it came on the eve of his 100th day in office. He was welcomed as a hero, with many gun rights supporters at the convention praising his selection of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He treated the speech as a political rally, railing against journalists and critics who said “there was no path to 270” – the number of Electoral College votes a candidate needs to secure the presidency.

And he vouched for Karen Handel, the Republican candidate Georgia’s 6th District, saying she waged an “incredible fight” to land a spot in the June 20 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Handel has cozied up to Trump since landing the No. 2 spot in the race, and the two appeared together at a fundraiser shortly after his NRA event.

“She’s totally for the NRA and she’s totally for the Second Amendment. So get out and vote,” Trump said. “You know, she’s running against someone who is going to raise your taxes to the sky and destroy your healthcare.”

He added a personal plea for Georgia Republicans to avoid another over-crowded election. There were 18 candidates running for the seat, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb, and 11 of them were Republicans.

“By the way, in primaries, let’s not have 11 Republicans run for the same position,” he said. “It’s too nerve shattering.”

Here’s our live updates of the event:

Updated at 4 p.m.: And he’s gone: Air Force One took off around 4 p.m., bound for Washington.

Updated at 2:34 p.m.:  Trump’s speech ended with a pledge to the NRA: “I can proudly say: I will never, ever let you down.” He’s off next to a fundraiser for Karen Handel’s campaign for Congress.

Updated at 2:25 p.m.: Trump is reliving the greatest hits of his campaign, pledging to put “America First” and doubling down on some of his promises in last year’s race.

“We’ll build the wall. Don’t even think about it,” he said, adding: “We need that wall and we’re going to get that wall.”

And he vowed to support a Second Amendment expansion, prompting cheers from many in the crowd of thousands at the Georgia World Congress Center.

“As your president, I will never, ever infringe on the right of people to keep and bear arms.”

Updated at 2:15 p.m. Trump is showering the National Rifle Association with praise for supporting him.

“You came through for me,” he said, “and I am going to come through for you.”

He added: “The eight year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

Updated at 2:10 p.m.: Trump praised Karen Handel as an “incredible” Republican candidate for Georgia’s 6th District and slammed Democrat Jon Ossoff as a supporter of “open borders” that would lead to a wave of crime.

“She’s totally for the NRA and she’s totally for the Second Amendment. So get out and vote,” Trump said. “You know, she’s running against someone who is going to raise your taxes to the sky and destroy your healthcare.”

He added a personal plea for Georgia Republicans to avoid another over-crowded election. There were 18 candidates running for the seat, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb, and 11 of them were Republicans.

“By the way, in primaries, let’s not have 11 Republicans run for the same position,” he said. “It’s too nerve shattering.”

Read why that matters here.

Updated at 1:50 p.m.: Our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett is also inside the Georgia World Congress Center, and she sets up the scene.

Read about the thousands of NRA members awaiting Trump here.  And over here is our coverage of the “die in” protest from gun control activists at nearby Woodruff Park.

Updated at 1:40 p.m.: The NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox, said that gun rights advocates would bring the same energy they brought to the 2016 elections to urge Congress to pass what’s known as concealed carry reciprocity.

The measure would require every state to accept gun permits in the other states, much like the drivers’ license system, regardless of individual state restrictions.

Updated at 1:18 p.m.: President Donald Trump has arrived in Atlanta to address the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.His speech is set for 1:30 p.m., although it appears likely to be delayed. He’ll next headline a fundraiser for Republican Karen Handel before skipping town around 4 p.m.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. President Donald Trump is expected to lay out his support for expanding Second Amendment rights at the NRA convention in Atlanta.

More than 80,000 people and hundreds of exhibitors are set to pack the four-day event, which kicked off Thursday with an opening dinner. And a list of political heavyweights, including Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, will address the crowd Friday.

At the center of the spectacle will be Trump, once an advocate of stricter gun limits who emerged as a stalwart supporter of gun rights in the presidential race. The NRA rewarded him with an endorsement months before he locked up the GOP presidential nomination — and firepower from a wave of ads ahead of the November vote.

Updated at noon: The candidates in Georgia’s 6th District race are divided over one of the state’s biggest gun rights debates.

Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are split over the “campus carry” gun rights expansion, which is squarely in the spotlight as the National Rifle Association gathers in Atlanta for its annual convention.

Ossoff said in an interview that he “absolutely” supports the Second Amendment and grew up with firearms in his household. But he said he was opposed to the measure pending on Gov. Nathan Deal’s measure.

“As we prepare young people in Georgia for the high-tech economy, they should be able to sit in class without worrying whether the student next to them has a Glock on their hip,” he said.Handel said through a spokeswoman that the measure “is in keeping with the personal protections granted in the Second Amendment.

Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff.

“Significant changes to address concerns from the governor after last year’s veto have been added to improve the bill,” said the spokeswoman, Kate Constantini. “This bill treats law abiding 21 year olds responsible enough to go through the process of a background check and acquiring a concealed weapons permit like the adults they are.”

The June 20 runoff to represent the district, which spans from east Cobb to north DeKalb, is seen as an early test of Donald Trump’s popularity and a dry run for next year’s midterm elections.

Read more about the measure here.

Updated at 11:30 a.m.: Atlanta City Council president Ceasar Mitchell has a message for Trump:  “Enjoy your brief stay.”

The Democrat, one of about a dozen candidates for mayor, panned his itinerary as “not the one I suggest to most visitors” and urged him to “leave more money in the federal budget” for MARTA and other transit spending.

“Creating safer communities and better commutes are two such needs that go to the core of making America great,” he said. “Enjoy your brief stay, thank you for tangling the already bad traffic, and please do come again.”

Updated at 11 a.m.: We just got our hands on the latest schedule for the NRA meeting.

Country singer Lee Greenwood – you know him for “God Bless the USA” – will perform around 1:25 p.m. and introduce President Donald Trump.

Next up is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Ted Cruz and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Georgia Sen. David Perdue will talk around 3:30 p.m.

Trump won’t stay long. He’s headed to a fundraiser for Handel before jetting back to Washington around 4 p.m.

Updated at 10:30 a.m.: Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t plan to time a bill-signing of “campus carry” legislation to the NRA’s big meeting here. But it sure sounds like he’s going to sign the measure legalizing firearms on college campuses.

In an interview shortly before the NRA meeting kicked off, he was tightlipped about whether he would sign the controversial measure. But he noted that it was “significantly different” than a similar proposal he vetoed last year after lawmakers defied his request for more exemptions to the measure.

This year, lawmakers approved a measure that agreed to Deal’s demands to bar guns from on-campus child care facilities, faculty and administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings. Those changes, Deal said, pleased him greatly.

Attendees at the NRA convention in Atlanta. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

“You have to give credit to them doing that. I had made some of these suggestions last year, and they were not heeded,” he said. “This year, not only did they take my suggestions, they added a few of their own, such as college and career academies that may be located on the grounds of a technical college or college or university. So they expanded even the excluded areas that I have outlined. It is a much different bill.”

Updated at 10 a.m.: AJC reporters staged at several different protest staging grounds around the city report light crowds gathering to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, thousands waited in line amid heavy security to get into the Georgia World Congress Center ballroom where Trump is set to speak.

Check out the ongoing protest coverage here.

Updated at 9:30 a.m.: Gov. Nathan Deal said he plans to thank President Donald Trump for his “immediate” response to a deadly spate of tornadoes that struck south Georgia in January and for federal help for the I-85 bridge collapse in March.

The governor is set to greet Trump on the tarmac later Friday when he lands to address the NRA convention. The president is expected to speak around 1:30 p.m.

Deal said the state is also likely to eventually ask for “additional assistance” beyond the $10 million already set aside to repair the damaged bridge.

“We’re going to continue to push to get that project finished in a timely fashion,” he said.

Updated 9 a.m.:

Updated 7:30 a.m.:

His keynote address to the NRA — he will be the first sitting president to address the group since Ronald Reagan — also comes as Georgia wrestles with a controversial proposal to expand gun rights. Gov. Nathan Deal is considering legislation that would allow people with permits to carry concealed firearms on most parts of public college campuses.

The governor vetoed a similar proposal last year after lawmakers defied his personal request for exemptions, but Deal appears more likely to sign this year’s measure into law after legislators acceded to his demands. He faces a new onslaught from gun control advocates and other critics urging him to trash this proposal as well.

Conservatives last year passed a measure that would allow more guns on public college campuses, but they refused to include the exceptions to the expansion that Deal sought.

Deal issued a scathing veto of the measure that invoked an opinion by the now-deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia describing colleges as “sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed.”

This year, lawmakers approved a measure that agreed to Deal’s demands to bar guns from on-campus child care facilities, faculty and administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings. It also would exempt classrooms where high school students attend college campuses, as well as dormitories, sorority and fraternity houses, and athletic events.

The NRA holds its meeting in Atlanta. AJC/John Spink.

The measure’s critics hope a grammatical error in the bill could prevent Deal from signing it, and they are eager to remind the governor of his stinging veto and the opposition from the University System of Georgia and several Republican lawmakers who represent college campuses.

“We’re hoping he’ll stay true to his words and his strong commitment to education in the state of Georgia,” said Mallory Harris, a University of Georgia student who organized rallies against the legislation. “Overwhelmingly, the people who are most familiar with campus safety do not support this bill.”

The governor remains tight-lipped about the measure, although he appears likely to wait until after the NRA meeting to take action. He did, however, suggest it was unfair to compare the two measures.

“The bill that I was sent this year on campus carry is significantly different than the bill I received last year,” he said Thursday after a bill signing ceremony, twice more saying the measure awaiting his signature is vastly changed from the legislation he nixed.

“It’s a very different piece of legislation,” Deal said, “but I haven’t made a final decision yet.”


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