President Donald Trump has been cooling to the idea of supporting new legislation for stricter firearm background checks in recent conversations with lawmakers, congressional and Republican sources tell CNN.
Trump frequently publicly supported new background check legislation shortly after two back-to-back mass shootings earlier this month. But now, the President’s interest in pursuing the issue appears to be waning.
Trump said Tuesday that though there are “very, very strong background checks” in place right now for gun purchases, there are still “missing areas.”
“I’m not doing that to be cute,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office when asked whether he was dialing back his calls for expanded background checks in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings. “We have very, very strong background checks right now. But we have, sort of, missing areas, 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.”
After a week at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and with the conversation around Dayton and El Paso shrinking, Trump has — at least publicly — scaled back his emphasis on even modest reforms to the nation’s gun laws. Instead, the President focused almost exclusively on the issue of mental health, which is a more palatable conversation among the President’s base of supporters than imposing new hurdles to the purchase of firearms in the US.
Trump’s shift away from background checks comes amid conversations with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin over the last week, as well as the National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre, the sources said.
Based on those conversations, among others with additional lawmakers, GOP officials believe Trump has now backed off of the idea of tightening the background check system for the moment.
But two White House officials maintain that Trump has not closed the door on new gun control legislation.
One Republican operative close to the White House said the issue is likely to reemerge when Congress returns from its recess in September, noting that some GOP lawmakers in swing districts are hearing from voters who want to see action on the gun issue.
“They are getting heat from constituents,” the GOP operative said, though it’s unclear which lawmakers have experienced such blowback.
There’s been minimal movement by Republicans in support of increased gun control in the wake of the most recent massacres. Earlier this month New York GOP Rep. Peter King became the first Republican to sign onto an assault weapons ban. Texas Rep. Michael McCaul recently signaled his support for strengthening background checks, telling CNN Congress will act but needs to do so without “infringing on our constitutional rights.”
“I think anybody that buys a gun should have a background check,” he added.
But at an event in his district, none of the questions McCaul received from the 30 or so constituents in the audience were about guns.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said Tuesday he doesn’t think any of the gun legislation floated in the past two weeks is likely to pass. That assessment includes red flag laws — rules that would allow officials to temporarily remove guns from people in crisis through a court order — as well as strengthening background checks or mandatory gun buyback programs.
“All I can tell you is what I hear in Wisconsin. The debate really hasn’t changed much at all,” Johnson said. “People still ask the same questions. OK, if you propose some kind of gun legislation, first of all, how would that have prevented these tragedies in the past? How would they prevent them in the future?”
By Jim Acosta and Maegan Vazquez, CNN