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Trump Announces Withdrawal From An International Arms Trade Treaty At NRA Convention


President Donald Trump traveled to Indianapolis to stress his support for the National Rifle Association and tout his gun rights record. While he was there, he also announced he was withdrawing from an international arms trade treaty. Diehard Trump fans showed up as early as 6:30 a.m., more than five hours before he was slated to speak. Lining up on a windy morning outside Lucas Oil Stadium, along with vendors selling Make America Great Again hats.


CORNISH: NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from the NRA convention. Hey there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CORNISH: What message did the president send today to his most faithful supporters?

MAK: You know, the president wanted to send a message that he needs their support to be reelected, and it's not too early to talk about it. He didn't just talk about guns. He bragged about the economy, he talked about his border wall - all red meat for his conservative crowd.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To all of our incredible friends at the NRA, thank you for fighting the good fight. It is an honor to fight by your side, and it's an honor to be with everyone in this giant hall today. I am with you. I will never, ever let you down. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless...

MAK: And he warned that Democrats wanted to confiscate firearms.


TRUMP: They want to take away your guns. You better get out there and vote.

MAK: Just to be clear, though - gun confiscation from law-abiding citizens is just not a mainstream idea on the left.

CORNISH: There was also this arms control treaty announcement that he made. What details do you have?

MAK: So the president kind of wants to keep his base on edge, motivated to support him and other Republicans. And as part of his speech, he announced he was withdrawing from the UN Arms Trade Treaty. This was initially signed by former President Obama. But it's important to point out that this was a symbolic announcement. The treaty attempts to regulate international arms trade in conventional weapons, but it's never been ratified by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and wasn't slated to. True to his reputation as a showman, the president signed the order in real time, on stage, in front of thousands of NRA members, and then he threw the pen into the crowd.

CORNISH: How is the National Rifle Association doing financially? The president said they're more powerful than ever.

MAK: Well, you know, recent public disclosures paint a different picture - it suggests they're operating at a deficit of nearly $20 million. I mean, the National Rifle Association, it thrives, from a fundraising perspective, when their opponents are in power. Their membership writes checks when they have figures they can point to and fundraise off of. And this is something that even NRA officials will admit privately. In the Trump era, it's really hard to make this case because conservatives hold the balance of power in the Supreme Court, control the Senate and the White House. And Trump kind of alluded to that a little bit.


TRUMP: I'm a champion for the Second Amendment, and so are you. It's not going anywhere.


TRUMP: It's under assault. It's under assault, but not when we're here - not even close.

MAK: The NRA certainly remains pretty powerful, and they have a lot of sway with the president himself, for example.

CORNISH: A federal judge handed down a sentence for Maria Butina today - the Russian national who pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Russian government. Remind us her connection to the NRA.

MAK: Yeah, this is something I've been following for years, and it wasn't something the president or other NRA officials brought up at the convention. I first broke the story on Butina back in 2017, when she was bragging about being a conduit between the Trump team, gun circles and the Russian government. Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Russian official named Alexander Torshin to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups. She received an 18-month sentence of which she's already served nine months, and she'll be serving that additional nine months now.

CORNISH: That's Tim Mak. Thanks so much.

MAK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.