Moved by a pair of mass shootings last weekend, President Trump said he believed it was time for lawmakers to do something about gun violence.
On Friday, the president said he would personally speak with the National Rifle Association to convince them that they should be more open to gun restrictions and background checks.
The NRA – one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States and a frequent donor to Republican politicians – has for decades rejected gun control efforts. It indicated in a statement on Thursday that it still opposed further gun restrictions.
But Trump told reporters at the White House the NRA should have input on the issue and might come around to supporting tighter background checks on gun buyers or at least not be so strident in its opposition.
Following attacks last weekend that killed 31 people in Texas and Ohio, Trump said the United States needs significant background checks on gun buyers “so that sick people don’t get guns.”
Speaking of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, President Trump said: “I think, in the end, Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral and that would be OK, too.”
The president carefully recognized that the gun lobby holds such strong resistance to any gun restrictions as they do not want one anti-gun bill to domino into another and another: “You know, it’s a slippery slope. They think you approve one thing and that leads to a lot of bad things. I don’t agree with that. I think we can do meaningful, very meaningful background checks. I want to see it happen.”
In his comments, the president boasted in his own ability to bridge the NRA and Congress amid previously failed attempts to pass gun restrictions by other presidents. “There’s never been a president like President Trump,” the president said per Reuters.
“I have a great relationship with the NRA,” he added.
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Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in a Twitter posting on Friday, said “it will be nearly impossible to accomplish anything meaningful to address gun violence” if Trump requires pre-approval by the NRA.
The Washington Post reported that LaPierre called Trump this week to tell him a background check bill would not be popular with his supporters.
Trump wrote on Twitter that he had “been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.”
As he considers whether to push for new measures, Trump also has to ensure he does not lose support of pro-gun rights conservatives as he runs for re-election next year.
According to the report, the White House could look to pitch other ideas including changes to health privacy laws so law enforcement could catch potential shooters before they carry out their acts of violence.
“It’s certainly one of the front and center issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said via the report, but “background checks and red flags would probably lead the discussions.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham echoed: “I think there’s more pressure on all of us to do something. If you’re out there just living a normal life, this is hard to understand why we can’t do something after multiple events. I just think the space to do nothing is gone.”