Outlook Uncertain On Gun Policy As Trump Signals Openness — With NRA In His Ear

Aug 21, 2019
Originally published on August 21, 2019 3:22 pm

President Trump said he is willing to get behind some changes to background checks for gun buyers as long as Democrats don't move the goalposts and lead him down a "slippery slope."

The president told reporters on Wednesday that he continues to support new or altered checks, without going into detail, and he acknowledged that he has been taking counsel on the issue from the National Rifle Association.

Trump confirmed he had spoken with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday but not some news accounts that suggested the two men had agreed there would be no movement on background checks.

Instead, Trump said he and LaPierre mostly talked about "concepts" and "certain weaknesses we want to fix" in the current process for buying guns.

Trump suggested he was willing to negotiate something with Democrats: "Assuming they really want to get this done, we can get this done."

Precisely what "this" might involve isn't clear as Trump and Democrats appear far apart on gun proposals following the mass shootings earlier this month in Texas and Ohio.

Political leaders on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue have suggested they would be open to new gun policies, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But one difficulty in understanding the state of play has been Trump's own changing position.

Two weeks ago, he wrote on Twitter that "Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks."

After his phone call with the NRA leader on Tuesday, Trump played down the need for such action.

"We have very, very strong background checks right now," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

Continued Trump: "But we have, sort of, missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle. And we're looking at different things. And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. ... It's not the gun that pulls the trigger; it's the person that pulls the trigger."

Then on Wednesday the president repeated some of those points and added that what he feared was a tactic by Democrats in which they opened negotiations but then insisted on elements that would take any bill beyond the point he was willing to support.

Opponents call for new action

Democrats say the recent shootings reinforce the need for significant new action; the House Judiciary Committee has announced it will return to Washington early to take up legislation on red flag laws and assault weapons.

"For years, Democrats have worked with the survivors of gun violence on legislation and promised that we would never stop until we got the job done," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to lawmakers this month.

"Public sentiment is in favor of gun violence prevention," she said. "The American people must weigh in with the Congress and the president."

Democratic presidential hopefuls also faulted what they called Trump's capitulation to gun rights groups.

"Trump isn't in charge — the NRA is," wrote California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Former Vice President Joe Biden vowed that if he is elected not only will he pursue "universal" background checks but he will also reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Trouble inside the association

The president's adoption of the NRA's leitmotif that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" underscored the enduring influence of the gun rights group even as it also undergoes significant internal turmoil.

For example, on the same day that LaPierre spoke with the president, two NRA board members decided to resign.

Country music singer Craig Morgan stepped down, as did NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. Childress did not refer to the internal power struggles or the multiple investigations taking place into the NRA's finances.

"It is necessary for me to fully focus on my businesses," Childress wrote, in a letter obtained by NPR. "My hope is that the NRA will move forward with a focus on its important mission."

Amid allegations of financial impropriety, the New York and Washington, D.C., attorneys general have launched investigations into the organization. This comes in addition to numerous congressional probes into its finances.

Morgan's and Childress' resignations bring the number of resignations from the board to seven, out of a total of 76 board members.

A number of board members have resigned in recent weeks in part because of what they claim is an inability to get straight answers about the group's financial situation.

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