President Trump's openness to extensive gun background checks draws warning from NRA
President Donald Trump has repeatedly told lawmakers and aides in private conversations that he is open to endorsing extensive background checks in the wake of two mass shootings, prompting a warning from the National Rifle Association and concerns among White House aides, according to lawmakers and administration officials.
Trump, speaking to reporters Wednesday before visiting Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, where weekend shootings left 31 dead, said there “was great appetite for background checks” amid an outcry over government inaction in the face of repeated mass shootings.
Trump’s previous declarations of support for tougher gun controls, including after the deadly Parkland, Florida, shooting in February 2018, have foundered without a sustained push from the president and support from the NRA or Republican lawmakers. Even Trump’s advisers question how far he will go on any effort.
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre spoke with Trump on Tuesday after the president expressed support for a background check bill and told him it would not be popular among Trump’s supporters, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal talks. LaPierre also argued against the bill’s merits, the officials said.
The NRA, which opposes the legislation sponsored by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, declined to comment.
Advisers to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he would not bring any gun-control legislation to the floor without widespread Republican support. Trump has waffled, current and past White House officials say, between wanting to do more and growing concerned that doing so could prompt a revolt from his political base. Even some supporters of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would expand background checks to nearly all firearm sales, say it is unlikely to pass.
“I don’t think the president or his Republican allies are going to become out of nowhere advocates of aggressive gun control,” said Matt Schlapp, who leads the American Conservative Union and is a close ally to Trump.
Trump has focused on guns extensively since the shootings, calling lawmakers and surveying aides about what he should do — outreach that began Sunday evening. White House officials say there have been a series of meetings on a response, convened by acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, including a session Tuesday morning.
The president has discussed with aides the idea of a Rose Garden bill-signing ceremony for gun-control legislation, a notion that seems premature to many in the West Wing.
Trump also asked lawyers about what he could enact through an executive order, officials said.
“He seems determined to do something and believes there is space to get something done this time around,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who said he had spoken to Trump “four or five times” since the shooting. “The president has a pretty common-sense point of view. He’s never been a sports or gun enthusiast. But he is more determined than ever to do something on his watch.”
Manchin said Trump called him at 6:30 a.m. Monday and that the two spoke again on Tuesday, when Trump said he wanted legislation before September, when the Senate is scheduled to return.
Trump did not express explicit support for the Manchin-Toomey bill but asked a range of questions. Most of the recent mass shootings were carried out with guns purchased legally.