Trump spoke with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre during El Paso, Dayton trip

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has heard repeated objections from the leader of the National Rifle Association and others who are pushing back on the idea of him supporting new legislation on background checks for gun buyers, officials said Thursday. 

Trump, who has spoken with NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre over the past two days, is also hearing opposition from aides about a House Democratic background check bill currently pending in Congress, administration officials said. Yet they said Trump is still deciding on a path forward in the wake of mass shootings over the weekend.

“Well, I’m looking to do background checks,” Trump told reporters Wednesday as he traveled to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the sites of the latest shootings over the weekend. “I don’t want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people.”

Trump and LaPierre spoke by phone on Tuesday and again a few more times on Wednesday as the president traveled to El Paso and Dayton, officials said. White House and NRA officials declined to detail the conversation between Trump and LaPierre.

LaPierre would not discuss his conversations with Trump either, but said in a statement that “the NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.” 

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Skeptics question whether Trump will do anything, pointing out that the president spoke with LaPierre just a few days after the latest mass shootings, and that the NRA is a prominent opponent of the new House background check bill.

Some critics added that Trump has a habit of talking up gun control after other mass shootings – such as the 2018 attack on a high school in Parkland, Fla. – then having little or no follow through.

“We’ve seen it before,” tweeted Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s top Democrat. “An awful shooting occurs. @realDonaldTrump expresses interest in helping. Republicans try to get him off the hook with lesser measures. Nothing happens.”

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Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Trump has acted and is sincere about pushing new legislation.

But congressional action in the short term is highly unlikely. There are no apparent plans to call Congress into session during its August recess. As of mid-day Thursday, Trump had no meetings scheduled with congressional leaders.

In addition to improved background checks, Trump and aides are discussing proposals to strengthen mental health laws, officials said. Another possibility is a “red flag law” that would allow law enforcement, family members and others to ask a judge to confiscate firearms from people who are deemed to be dangerous.

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Trump is also exploring the idea of executive orders on gun safety, officials said, but added that he would prefer congressional action.

In a policy paper, the NRA said the focus should be on improving the current background check system. The current proposal, it said, would cover private sales of guns between individuals, thereby it “would criminalize many transfers that take place as part of hunting, recreational shooting, and even self-defense.”

The Trump administration also issued a policy statement in February objecting to the House plan, saying it would in part “impose burdensome requirements on certain firearm transactions.”

In his statement, LaPierre said the background check plans being discussed “would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton.” He added “the NRA will work in good faith to pursue real solutions to the epidemic of violence in America,” but will oppose “soundbite solutions.”

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Democrats: Pressure the Republicans

Democrats are seeking to press Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell into putting the House bill on the floor, but he also opposes their plan.

“Only serious, bipartisan, bicameral efforts will enable us to continue this important work and produce further legislation that can pass the Senate, pass the House, and earn the president’s signature,” McConnell said.

Gun control supporters said the NRA and many Republicans are more interested in protecting the gun industry, and that the House bill would improve the background check system, making it harder for people who should not own firearms.

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Some proponents said Trump is less important to the process than McConnell and other Republican senators who could be in a position to move on a bill.

Igor Volsky, executive director of an organization called Guns Down America, said supporters of new gun safety legislation, including champions of gun reform in the Senate, should seek to put political pressure on the Republicans, especially those who face tough re-election races next year. 

As for Trump, Volsky said that past practice indicates that the president listens more to advocates like LaPierre.

Trump “says one thing, and contradicts himself on everything,” Volsky said.

White House: Trump will keep working

White House officials said Trump is committed to the idea of keeping guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.

Over the past year, he has signed off on an executive order to ban “bump stocks” that create automatic weapons, a law to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and a school safety report with recommendations for local governments.

Since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Trump has held meetings with aides and allies to discuss a variety of proposals.

The administration has invited internet and technology companies to a meeting Friday to discuss “violent extremism online,” the White House said in a statement. Trump is not expected to attend the “staff-led meeting.”

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Officials pointed out Trump has also spoken with two Senators who back a new background check plan, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Trump said he will continue to talk with lawmakers about what to do. While claiming an openness to new background check laws, Trump also said he did not see support for proposals like bans on assault weapon. Any proposal, he said, is likely to face political challenges.

“We’re dealing with leadership right now,” Trump said. “And, you know, you have two sides that are very different on this issue. And, let’s say, all good people. But two sides that are very different.”

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