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Trump backs off call for raising minimum age to buy gun

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check system as part of a new plan to prevent school shootings.

But in a move sure to please the gun lobby, the plan does not include a push to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, which President Donald Trump had repeatedly championed.

Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue, as well as a long list of others topics, as part of a longer-term look at school safety and violence.

The plan forgoes an endorsement of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, which the president, at times, seemed to embrace.

In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump's call for action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead.

"Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the commission.

DeVos said that "far too often, the focus" after such tragedies "has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners." She described the plan as "pragmatic."

The plan was immediately panned by gun control advocates, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump's dangerous retreat from his promise," said Avery Gardiner, the group's co-president.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the plan "weak on security and an insult to the victims of gun violence." In a statement, he added, "When it comes to keeping our families safe, it's clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are all talk and no action."

The plan is less ambitious than the changes Trump advocated in a series of listening sessions in the weeks after the massacre. In televised meetings with lawmakers, survivors of recent school shootings and the families of victims, Trump made a strong case for arming teachers, but also increasing the age for purchasing long guns.

"I mean, so they buy a revolver — a handgun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about ... they're allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?" he told school officials last month. "We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18."

White House spokesman Raj Shah had said earlier Sunday in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that "the president has been clear that he does support raising the age to 21" and that that would be a "component" of the announcement.

But Trump also has spoken repeatedly in recent weeks with the heads of the powerful National Rifle Association, which considers increasing the age of purchase to be an assault on the Second Amendment. The NRA on Friday sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that bans the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.

Instead, the issue will be one of manyf topics to be studied by the DeVos commission, which will then provide recommendations to the president. Administration officials said they had not set a deadline for the commission's recommendations, but expected they'd be made within a year.

Trump's embrace of another commission appears at odds with comments he made Saturday night mocking their use, at least when it comes to fighting drug addiction.

During the meetings, Trump also advocated arming certain teachers and school staffers, arguing that gun-free schools are "like an invitation for these very sick people" to commit murder.

"If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could end the attack very quickly," he has said.

As part of the plan, the White House has directed the Justice Department to help states partner with local law enforcement to provide "rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel," said Andrew Bremberg, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council. The White House did not immediately say how much money would be made available.

Trump also called on states to pass temporary, court-issued Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals who pose risks to themselves and others, and temporarily prevent them from buying firearms. And he called for the reform and expansion of mental health programs, as well as a full audit and review of the FBI tip line. The bureau has been criticized for not following up on warnings about the suspect in the Parkland school shooting.

During the often free-wheeling conversations, Trump also seemed to voice support for "universal" background checks, which would apply to private gun sales and those at gun shows, instead of just from licensed dealers. He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate guns from those they deem a safety risk even before a court has weighed in.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," Trump said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later walked back both suggestions, saying "Universal means something different to a lot of people." She said the president wanted to expedite the court process, not circumvent it.

Instead, the White House reiterated its support for improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check through the "Fix NICS" bill, which would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.

The White House called on Congress to pass a second bill that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the STOP School Violence Act next week.

Jenn March, Special to the Post-Star 

Madalyn Zabielski, 4, watches Marc Kenyon, maple syrup producer at Adirondack Gold Maple Farm, pour a mixture of sap and water from the maple tap into the evaporator basin in Athol on Saturday. The farm is participating in Thurman Maple Days, an event held for three weekends to spark interest in maple syrup production and sales at the start of the coveted sap's 4-6 week harvesting season.

Historic vote in China will let president rule for life

BEIJING — Xi Jinping, already China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, received a vastly expanded mandate Sunday as lawmakers abolished presidential term limits that have been in place for more than 35 years and wrote his political philosophy into the country’s constitution.

In one swift vote, the rubber-stamp legislature opened up the possibility of Xi serving as president for life, returning China to the one-man-rule system that prevailed during the era of Mao and the emperors who came before him.

The package of constitutional amendments passed the nearly 3,000-member National People’s Congress almost unanimously, with just two opposing votes and three abstentions. The vote further underscored the total dominance of Chinese politics possessed by the 64-year-old Xi, who serves simultaneously as the head of state, leader of the ruling Communist Party and commander of the powerful 1 million-member armed forces.

The move upends a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

“This marks the biggest regression in China’s legal system since the reform and opening-up era of the 1980s,” said Zhang Lifan, an independent Beijing-based political commentator. “I’m afraid that this will all be written into our history in the future.”

The change is widely seen as the culmination of Xi’s efforts since being appointed leader of the party in 2012 to concentrate power in his own hands and defy norms of collective leadership established over the past two decades. Xi has appointed himself to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other major initiatives, effectively sidelining the Communist Party’s No. 2 figure, Premier Li Keqiang.

In addition to scrapping the limitation that presidents can serve only two consecutive terms, the amendments also inserted Xi’s personal political philosophy into the preamble of the constitution, along with phrasing that emphasizes the party’s leadership.

“It is rare nowadays to see a country with a constitution that emphasizes the constitutional position of any one political party,” Zhang said.

Voting among the legislature’s hand-picked delegates began in the mid-afternoon, with Xi leading members of the party’s seven-member all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in casting their ballots on a stage inside a cavernous hall. He placed his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state.

Rank-and-file deputies then rose to vote on the floor of the hall as jaunty instrumental music played. The process was over in 10 minutes, and delegates returned to their seats while the votes were counted.

Shortly after 3:50 p.m., the results were read over the public-address system and flashed briefly on a screen in the hall.

“The constitutional amendment item has passed,” the announcer declared to polite applause.

Xi showed little emotion, remaining in his seat with other deputies to listen to a report on the work of the congress delivered by its outgoing chairman.

The slide toward one-man rule under Xi has fueled concern that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the excesses of autocratic leadership.

The head of the legislature’s legal affairs committee, Shen Chunyao, dismissed those worries as “speculation that is ungrounded and without basis.”

Shen told reporters that the party’s 90-year history has led to a system of orderly succession to “maintain the vitality and long-term stability of the party and the people.”

“We believe in the future that we will continue with this path and discover an even brighter future,” Shen said.

In a sign of the issue’s sensitivity, government censors have aggressively scrubbed social media of expressions ranging from “I disagree” to “Xi Zedong.” A number of prominent Chinese figures have publicly protested the move, despite the risk of retaliation.

Officials have said the elimination of presidential term limits is aimed only at bringing the office of the president in line with Xi’s other positions atop the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission, which do not impose term limits.

While some scholars questioned the wisdom of the move, others said they saw value in sending the message that Xi would be setting policy for many years to come.

“In fact, the more Xi Jinping’s position is consolidated and the longer his governing time is to last, the more secure it is for the continuity of the policies,” said Liu Jiangyong, a professor at Renmin University’s School of International Relations.

The move has crushed faint hopes for political reforms among China’s embattled liberal scholars and activists, who now fear even greater repression. China allows no political opposition in any form and has relentlessly persecuted independent groups seeking greater civic participation. Leading Chinese officials have repeatedly rejected any chance of adopting Western-style separation of powers or multiparty democracy.

Nevertheless, Xi’s confident, populist leadership style and tough attitude toward corruption have won him significant popular support.

Zhao Minglin, 32, a vice president of a Beijing investment firm, said it would be easier for Xi to carry out his ambitious vision of raising living standards if more power were concentrated in his hands.

“I will definitely support this constitutional amendment and this government. This is a powerful and strong government,” Zhao said. He added, however, that he was concerned that the public discourse lacked a space for dissenting voices.

Michael Goot / Michael Goot,  

The 14 Hudson building in Glens Falls. The SUNY Adirondack Culinary Arts Center is going to relocate to 8,000 square feet of space in the building. The cost of the project is about a half-million dollars more than originally planned.

Third annual Donor Dinner works to open the doors

The snowstorm last week didn’t keep away Open Door Mission donors from the third annual Donor Dinner Wednesday and Thursday evening.

In fact, 271 people turned out for the event at the Great Escape Lodge in Queensbury, which was held to raise money for the mission’s capital campaign and the ongoing Code Blue project.

Over 300 people had made reservations prior to the two-night event, but Kim Cook, director of the Open Door Mission, which runs a soup kitchen on Lawrence Street, was pleased with the turnout.

“It was great, even with the weather!” she said.

Cook didn’t have the amount raised from the dinner, but said new members signed up to be monthly donors, which helps pay for daily expenses and the Code Blue project.

“Every little bit helps,” Cook said.

Tickets were $40 per ticket, or a table of eight was $280.

Cook said the sewer and water portion of the project on Warren Street will be worked on in April, because it saves them an additional $20,000 to do it in the spring.

The water and sewer project will cost $90,000 and has caused the delays for the Code Blue shelter’s opening. Once the improvements are made, Cook can receive the certificate of occupancy from the city and the shelter doors can open.

“We just have to wait… it’s what makes most sense for us,” she added.

A definitive open date for the Code Blue shelter hasn’t been set.

But Cook said events likes the donor dinner are what help move the process along.

“It’s always a big fundraising event for us … but it’s more than just an event to feed people and raise money. We want to see lives changed, and it’s important that we share our mission,” she said.

The event also featured a silent auction, an awards ceremony, stories from the kitchen and a special guest speaker, Jack Crowley, president of the Water Street Mission in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Sponsors included Adirondack Trust Company, Hilltop Construction Company Leland Distributions and more.