President Donald Trump sought to reassure National Rifle Association members at their 2018 annual meeting Friday that their Second Amendment rights are safe in the midst of a national conversation on gun law reform.
“Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your Second Amendment and we will protect your Second Amendment,” he said. “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never ever be under siege as long as I am your president.”
Speaking on a wide list of topics reminiscent of a 2016 Trump rally, the President touched on immigration, North Korea and Kanye West – riffs that fired up the arena of NRA members, some of his strongest supporters during the election. Seeking to galvanize his base, he urged the crowd not to become “complacent” heading into the midterm elections.
“Don’t be complacent. Don’t be complacent,” Trump urged the crowd. “History says that when you win the presidency, you get complacent. You know the feeling? Like 90% of the time you win the presidency and for whatever reason you lose the midterm. We can’t let that happen. And the word is complacent.”
“We cannot get complacent,” Trump said again.
Still, Trump predicted that Republicans will do well in 2018, arguing “the Democrats are very concerned.”
“You watch how well we do in ’18, you watch,” Trump said.
Trump lamented the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling during his speech and referenced the case against Paul Manafort, while calling attention to a CNN article.
After referencing a CNN report about a federal judge’s comments on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, Trump argued that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and praised his former campaign chairman as a “good person.”
Trump quoted comments from a federal judge who suggested on Friday that the special counsel was aiming to hurt Trump by prosecuting Manafort, reassuring the crowd that he is actually enjoying fighting the investigation.
“Let me tell you folks, we’re all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles,” Trump said.
Trump also once again downplayed Manafort’s time at the helm of his campaign, saying he’s “a nice guy, but you know he worked for me for a very short period of time – like what, a couple months?”
“Manafort was there for a short while but he’s a good person, I really believe he’s a good person,” Trump said.
This was Trump’s fourth consecutive address to the NRA’s annual meeting, but his first remarks to the group since the tragic Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that left 17 dead and sparked a national student-led push for gun law reform.
“The world is watching and we’re going to come up with a solution,” Trump assured a group of people affected by the nation’s deadliest school shootings during an emotional White House listening session one week after the attack.
In a separate meeting with lawmakers following the shooting, Trump vowed to get tough on guns, potentially expanding background checks, taking guns away from the mentally ill, and raising the minimum age for purchase.
On Friday, Trump called attention to the “red flags” that were present before the Parkland school shooter carried out his attack.
“There has never been a case where more red flags have been shown,” Trump said, as he promised his administration was “working to improve early warning systems.”
Trump called attention to the modest measures he signed into law in the wake of the Parkland shooting, but made no mention of the series of changes he called for in its immediate wake, which the NRA opposed, such as raising the age of purchase for certain firearms, his calls for “comprehensive” gun law revisions and his support for expanding background checks.
Instead, he focused on the bill he signed into law which included $2 million in school safety funding and improvements in reporting to the background check system – all measures supported by the NRA and applauded by the audience.
Trump said more needs to be done to “harden certain schools” and reiterated his support for “allowing highly trained teachers to carry concealed weapons” and for security guards in schools.
He also expressed his condolences to the family of Dallas police officer Rogelio Santander, who was killed in the line of duty last week.
The NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect Trump in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Center of Responsive Politics, and provided a boon of conservative bona fides at a time when Trump’s candidacy was met with skepticism by many who doubted his conservative credentials.
CNN’s Allie Malloy and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.