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Trump makes familiar gun-control retreat after NRA talks

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President Donald Trump made a predictable about-face on background-check legislation on Sunday, performing a familiar tap dance Americans have come to expect: expressing support for a given issue or policy before promptly retreating when his allies push back.

The latest pivot followed back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month. The massacres together racked up a death toll of 31 and reignited a national debate about the role of guns in American life.

Trump, famously impulsive and prone to being influenced by those with whom he last spoke, told reporters just days after the El Paso and Dayton shootings that he supported heightened background checks for gun owners.

“I’m looking to do background checks,” he said. “I think background checks are important. I don’t want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people, or people with rage or hate, sick people — I’m all in favor of it.”

But Democrats and gun-control advocates, having been stung before, were immediately skeptical.

‘I’m very, very concerned with the Second Amendment’

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talks to reporters after the budget package just passed in the Senate to permit the government to resume borrowing to pay all of its obligations and would remove the prospect of a government shutdown in October, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.
Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

Read more: The NRA is reportedly warning Trump that supporting universal background checks will hurt him politically

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer scoffed at the notion that his Republican colleagues would meaningfully engage with the universal background checks bill that has already passed the Democrat-controlled House.

“To get anything meaningful done to address gun violence, we need [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s] commitment to hold a Senate vote on the House-passed background checks legislation,” he tweeted August 9.

Less than two weeks later, with no such commitment from Republicans in sight, Trump apparently changed his mind. He insisted Sunday that “we have very strong background checks right now,” and that he was “very, very concerned with the Second Amendment, more so than most presidents would be.”

The turning point apparently came after a series of meetings and calls in recent weeks with gun-rights advocates and the National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, The New York Times reported Monday.

Since those meetings, Trump has re-adopted several traditional NRA talking points about gun-control legislation: blaming mental illnesses rather than gun violence, talking up the Second Amendment, insisting that the US should focus on enforcing laws that already exist rather than creating new ones, and arguing that guns aren’t to blame for their owners’ actions.

“It is not the gun that pulls the trigger, it is the person holding the gun,” Trump said at a New Hampshire rally last week.

A deja vu moment for gun-control advocates

NRA Executive Director Chris Cox (L) and Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre (R) welcome U.S. President Donald Trump (C) onstage to deliver remarks at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., April 28, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Schumer released a statement on Monday expressing a resigned frustration at Trump’s change of heart. He also criticized the president for raising the hopes of gun-violence victims only to immediately double back.

“We’ve seen this movie before: President Trump, feeling public pressure in the immediate aftermath of a horrible shooting, talks about doing something meaningful to address gun violence,” Schumer said. “But inevitably, he backtracks in response to pressure from the NRA and the hard-right.”

He continued: “These retreats from President Trump are not only disappointing but also heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence.”

It was a deja vu moment for gun-control advocates, who watched a nearly identical scene play out after the February 2018 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

After initially suggesting that Republicans should “fight” the NRA “every once in awhile” and look into several gun-control measures, Trump soon backed away from supporting heightened background checks and raising the age limit for rifle purchases.

Instead, after an Oval Office meeting with NRA officials, Trump instead threatened to veto Democrats’ background checks bill.

The public generally supports stricter gun laws

Donald Trump and former NRA executive Wayne LaPierre.
Associated Press

It’s far from the first time Trump has abruptly backed away from a promise. He has performed similarly profound flip-flops on a host of other issues, including his promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, use torture on terror suspects, and secure the fate of the unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Yet despite Trump’s about-face after NRA intervention, polling shows that public support for background checks — even among Republicans — is high.

A Fox News poll conducted after the El Paso and Dayton shootings found that 89% of registered Republican voters favored expanding background checks.

The high percentage is in line with much of the American public, roughly 84% of whom believe background checks should cover private and gun show sales, according to the Pew Research Center.

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