President Donald Trump talked Tuesday with National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre and assured him that universal background checks were off the table, according to several people familiar with the call.
Trump told LaPierre that the White House remained interested in proposals that would address weapons getting into the hands of the mentally ill, including the possibility of backing so-called “red flag” laws that would allow the police to temporarily confiscate guns from people who have been shown to be a danger to themselves or others.
Nonetheless, the president’s conversation with LaPierre, which was first reported by the Atlantic, further reduced hopes that major new gun-safety measures will be enacted after the latest round of mass shootings.
“I know the gun lobby is putting the full-court press on everyone surrounding the president,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who said he was hoping for a process to be set up this week to move forward on a bipartisan backgrounds check bill. “I have not received any different signal than I got last week,” he said.
But while the president was in Bedminster, New Jersey, last week, NRA officials repeatedly talked to him, according to people familiar with those conversations. It seems the conversations were effective, which may further fuel public anger on the topic.
“Every time he raises expectations, then he clearly and publicly walks away from the commitments he made, it makes the lives of Republicans more miserable,” Murphy said.
A spokesman for another Democratic senator advocating background checks, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he has not been told to stand down by the White House.
In the days after the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump inspired hope among gun-control advocates by noting “there is a great appetite” for tightening background checks on people who buy firearms.
Federal legislation mandating background checks has been opposed by the NRA in the past. After the latest shootings, officials across the country called for expanding background checks to cover all gun buyers, including those making purchases at gun shows. With the NRA in some disarray following complaints of mismanagement, there was some hope among gun-control advocates that Trump might defy the politically powerful organization.
In the past, Trump has mocked lawmakers as fearful of the NRA, but he has also repeatedly lavished praise on the organization, whose political arm spent $30 million to help elect him. The president tweeted support for the NRA nearly a dozen times since early last year, most recently lamenting that “our great NRA” is a “victim of harassment” by the New York attorney general, which is investigating the tax-exempt group’s spending.
After hearing from NRA leaders over the past week, the president stopped talking about instituting such checks, emphasizing instead the need to keep guns away from people who are mentally disturbed. He noted in recent days that the country already has “very strong background checks,” a position that aligns with that of the NRA leadership.
Tuesday’s call with LaPierre, which was initiated by Trump, lasted 45 minutes and by the end of it, the two men had no disagreements, the people familiar with the call said. The president seemed more focused on funding for mental health programs and other topics of interest to the NRA, the people said.
For his part, LaPierre seemed pleased with his conversation with Trump, tweeting about it late Tuesday.
“I spoke to the president today,” he wrote. “We discussed the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies. President Trump is a strong 2A President and supports our Right to Keep and Bear Arms!”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey