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How The Gun Debate Has Changed Since Reagan


President Trump will speak at the National Rifle Association National Convention. First time in 34 years a sitting president has done that. Thirty-four years is - counting back here. OK, that's 1983. So Ronald Reagan was president. Reagan was the last president to do this and the gun debate has changed a lot since he did. Here's Lisa Hagen of member station WABE in Atlanta.


RONALD REAGAN: My fellow members of the National Rifle Association.

LISA HAGEN, BYLINE: A lot of President Reagan's speech at the NRA was about foreign policy, fighting crime and the economy. As far as gun rights, He did talk about the successful defeat of an effort to register handguns in California but Reagan spent just as much time framing the gun debate in terms of environmental policy.


REAGAN: The backbone of our conservation efforts begins with American sportsmen.

ADAM WINKLER: The gun debate was much less - I guess it was just much less heated.

HAGEN: That's UCLA law professor Adam Winkler. He wrote the book "Gunfight." It's a history of the American gun debate.

WINKLER: Now, the NRA is really focused solely on self-defense and fighting against government tyranny.

HAGEN: Winkler says a big part of that fight now is against what the NRA calls gun-free zones. It's an idea candidate Trump highlighted at last year's NRA convention. Here he is talking about the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we had guns on the other side, it wouldn't have been that way. I would have - boom. If we had guns on the other side, it wouldn't have been that way.

HAGEN: Here in Georgia, some state lawmakers hope to hear Trump endorse a bill to legalize guns on college campuses. State Representative Mandi Ballinger.

MANDI BALLINGER: It's about empowering students to take responsibility for their safety and make themselves safe against criminals here in the state of Georgia.

HAGEN: The bill's waiting on a signature from Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who vetoed a similar measure last year. Campus carry bills are being considered in nearly 20 states. Another big issue - getting more states to recognize each other's concealed carry permits. NRA spokesperson Jason Brown says the group's members want to hear a clear message from Trump.

JASON BROWN: Protecting gun rights, expanding gun rights and getting rid of legislation and gun rights restrictions in his country to make the Second Amendment more powerful than it ever has been before.

HAGEN: Trump made a lot of promises to gun rights advocates while campaigning. Although he's only acted on a few of those so far, Brown says NRA members are more than willing to be patient. For NPR News, I'm Lisa Hagen in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lisa Hagen is a reporter at WABE.

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