With recent reports suggesting that President Donald Trump assured National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre that universal background checks are dead, the president expressed skepticism about them in responding to Saturday’s shooting in Odessa, Texas.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday outside the White House, Trump said that the administration is talking to Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and they are “doing a package” to address a rash of mass shootings.
But he wasn’t too keen on background checks, saying that “they would not have stopped any of it.”
“We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts,” Trump said. “It’s been going on for a long while, background checks. I will say that for the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years, for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.”
The president may have tipped his hand on any coming legislation, saying that mental illness is the real culprit.
“So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”
This is a different tone than the one he set after the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last month that killed 31 people. At the time, Trump said he would consider “meaningful background checks.”
With Congress soon to return to work in Washington, D.C., Trump stressed that the coming effort is bipartisan — a rare accomplishment in today’s polarizing times.
“We’re in the process of dealing with Democrats, Republicans. They’ve been working very hard on it, they’re coming back very soon,” the president added. “There’s a big package of things that’s going to be put before [Congress], by a lot of different people. We have a lot of groups working on it.”
In mid-August, The Atlantic cited an anonymous source to report that the president told LaPierre background checks were off the table, and that Trump wants to look at “increasing funding” for mental-health care and prosecuting “gun crime” through federal firearms charges.
“He was cementing his stance that we already have background checks and that he’s not waffling on this anymore,” the source said. “He doesn’t want to pursue it.”
A White House official told Fox News at the time that “meaningful” new background checks remain a legislative option, while denying the president said he supported universal background checks.
Prior to The Atlantic’s article, Trump told reporters in New Jersey that background checks where already in place.
“People don’t realize, we have very strong background checks right now,” he stated. “You go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years, so I’ll have to see what it is.”
Following the shooting in Las Vegas, Trump banned bump stocks and with the 2020 presidential election looming, he risks losing support from millions of Americans if he aggressively pursues gun control.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office that same week, the president said, “A lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment.”
The Odessa shooter was identified as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, who had been arrested in 2001 for misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest. It’s not clear how he got his weapon, an assault-style rifle, but Texas law reportedly would not have stopped him from legally purchasing firearms.
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