WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he has reassured the National Rifle Association that its views about the right to bear arms won’t be ignored in Washington’s response to recent mass shootings.
Trump said he is talking with the NRA and others to make sure that their “very strong views can be fully represented and respected.”
“I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country,” Trump tweeted. “Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!”
The NRA, however, is uncompromising when it comes to gun control. Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said in a rare public statement Thursday that some federal gun control proposals “would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”
Trump did not say specifically how the NRA’s position could be reconciled with the push for new gun control measures.
He said leaders in the House and Senate are having “serious discussions” about background checks for buying guns. And he repeated his frequent statement that guns should not be “placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people.”
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he now wants to consider background checks and other action, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return in the fall.
The Republican leader won’t be calling senators back to work early, as some are demanding. But he told a Kentucky radio station that Trump called him Thursday morning and they talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is “anxious to get an outcome and so am I.”
Stakes are high for all sides, but particularly for Trump and his party. Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks — a bill passed by the Democratic-led House is stalled in McConnell’s Senate — but they face new pressure to do something after the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead.
“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome.”
McConnell said he and Trump discussed background checks and “red flag” laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,” McConnell told Louisville’s WHAS-AM.
Trump has declared an interest in federal background checks before, only to drop the issue later, as in his reversal on gun proposals after the 2018 high school shooting at Parkland, Florida.
The NRA and its allies on Capitol Hill have long wielded influence, but it’s unclear how much sway the gun lobby still holds over Republicans in the Trump era.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump assured them in phone calls Thursday he will review the House-passed bill that would expand federal background checks for firearm sales.
In a joint statement, they said Trump called them individually after Pelosi sent a letter asking the president to order the Senate back to Washington to consider gun violence measures.
Schumer and Pelosi said they told Trump the best immediate step would be for the Senate to take up and pass the House bill. Trump, they said, “understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives.”
The politics of gun control are shifting amid the frequency and toll of mass shootings. Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control measures — mostly Democrats — surged in the 2018 midterms, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined.
The NRA says proposals being discussed in Congress would not have prevented the shootings in Texas and Ohio.
McConnell rejected the idea of reconvening the Senate, saying calling senators back now would just lead to people “scoring points and nothing would happen.”
Instead, the GOP leader wants to spend the August recess talking with Democratic and Republican senators to see what’s possible. Senators have been talking among themselves, and holding conference calls, to sort out strategy.
The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell. He could risk losing support as he seeks reelection in Kentucky if he were to back restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for gun laws.