Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association’s 2016 convention in Louisville, Ky.
Friday, for the first time since 1983, a sitting president will address the National Rifle Association at the group’s annual convention — when President Trump, along with a who’s who of gun rights advocates, is scheduled to talk at the NRA Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Ga.
NRA spokesperson Jason Brown says the group is hoping to hear a clear message from Trump.
“Protecting gun rights, expanding gun rights and getting rid of legislation and gun rights restrictions in this country to make the Second Amendment more powerful than it ever has been before,” Brown said of the group’s hopes for the president’s speech.
While Trump hasn’t always had the easiest relationship with the NRA, the group proved crucial in electing him last November.
The NRA spent more than three times as much money to help Trump in 2016 as it did to back Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, the NRA worked hard to portray Democrat Hillary Clinton as a candidate bent on destroying the Second Amendment:
While Trump made a habit of talking about how mass shootings could be prevented if the victims involved were carrying guns.
“When you look at Paris, you know, the toughest gun laws in the world, Paris, nobody had guns but the bad guys.”
And after the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Roseburg, Ore.:
“You can make the case that it would’ve been a lot better had people had guns because they had something to fire back.”
However, when Trump tried to apply the same logic to the mass shooting in a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last summer, the NRA took issue.
“If we had people, where the bullets were going in the opposite direction, right smack between the eyes of this maniac,” Trump said to cheers at a rally in Texas. “And this son of a b—— comes out and starts shooting and one of the people in that room happened to have (a gun) and goes boom, boom. You know what, that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks.”
Almost immediately the group publicly denounced his comments.
“No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms,” NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said at the time, on ABC. “That defies common sense. It also defies the law.”
Trump walked back the comments on Twitter, but it wasn’t the first time the group and Trump haven’t seen completely eye to eye. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Trump said he supported the 10-year assault weapons ban President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994.
“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” Trump wrote. “With today’s Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”
In a March 2016 debate, Trump was asked about the passage, and he replied “I don’t support it anymore. I do not support the ban on assault” weapons.
Trump’s message before the gun rights group Friday will probably be markedly different from the speech Ronald Reagan gave 34 years ago. While Reagan did spend time talking about the successful defeat of an effort to register handguns in California, he spent just as much time framing the gun debate around environmental policy.
“The backbone of our conservation efforts begins with American sportsmen,” he said.
The gun debate then was much less heated, says UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight, a 2011 book detailing the history of guns in America.
“Now the NRA is really focused solely on self-defense and fighting against government tyranny,” Winkler said.
So far, during nearly 100 days in office, one of Trump’s notable gun-related actions has been his reversal of an Obama-era regulation that required the Social Security Administration to disclose mental health information to the national gun background check system.
Lisa Hagan, a reporter with member station WABE in Atlanta, contributed to this report.