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Trump And Pence Address NRA Amid Tense Gun Debate

President Trump speaks during the 2017 National Rifle Association convention in Atlanta. He was the first sitting president to do so since Ronald Reagan in 1983.

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updated at 3:11 p.m. ET

President Trump and Vice President Pence spoke to the National Rifle Association in Dallas on Friday. It's the third year in a row Trump has addressed the gun lobby organization, which was a strong backer of his 2016 campaign.

"The people in this hall have never taken our freedom for granted," Trump told the cheering crowd. "Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your Second Amendment."

The friendly audience was a balm for the president, who's been frustrated in recent days by fresh revelations about the money paid on his behalf to porn star Stormy Daniels.

"This country is right now running so smooth," the president told reporters traveling with him to Dallas. "And to be bringing up that kind of crap and to be bringing up witch hunts, all the time, that's all you want to talk about."

Trump's full-throated support for the NRA appeared to soften somewhat, after the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla. After meeting with families of some of the 17 people killed there, Trump flirted with gun control measures the NRA opposes, such as raising the minimum age for long gun purchasers to 21.

At a White House meeting with lawmakers, Trump even criticized his fellow Republicans for their timid approach to gun control legislation, suggesting they were "afraid of the NRA."

In his remarks on Friday, Pence acknowledged the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other mass shootings have left the nation "searching for answers."

"We mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve," the vice president said. "But we also resolve to confront this menace with all our strength. And we are doing just that under the leadership of this president."

Far from bucking the NRA, though, the administration has largely aligned itself with the gun lobby's positions, rejecting all but the mildest gun control measures while endorsing the idea of arming teachers and other school employees to serve as volunteer marshals.

"The quickest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Pence said Friday, echoing a favorite NRA slogan.

While state lawmakers in Florida adopted a higher age limit for gun buyers, action at the federal level was shunted to a new school safety commission, which has no deadline to report.

Trump did distance himself from one NRA initiative that would make concealed-carry permits from any state valid nationwide. While the GOP-controlled House passed the measure, the president has acknowledged it's a non-starter in the closely divided Senate.

Trump has also encouraged states to pass so-called "red flag" laws, which allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others. The NRA has opposed such laws in the past.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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