President Donald Trump has soured on plans for enhanced federal background checks for firearm purchases after speaking with gun lobbyists, an abrupt about-face just weeks after a pair of mass shootings left 31 people dead, according to multiple media reports.
The Atlantic on Tuesday reported that Trump had spoken with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, earlier that day to assure the head of the nation’s largest gun rights group that universal background checks were off the table following the massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month. The mass killings renewed bipartisan calls for stricter gun control legislation, and the president appeared to be considering the background check measure in the days after the shootings.
“We need intelligent background checks, OK? This isn’t a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat,” Trump told reporters outside the White House earlier this month. “We don’t want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people. … We don’t want guns in the hands of the wrong people.”
But speaking to the press in the Oval Office on Tuesday, the president appeared to walk back that language, saying that the country had “very, very strong background checks” already. Instead, he focused on the mental health of mass shooters.
“We have missing areas, and areas that don’t complete the whole circle. And we’re looking at different things,” Trump said. “And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I’ve said it a hundred times, it’s not the gun that pulls the trigger, it’s the people.”
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the conversation with LaPierre.
But the NRA confirmed later Tuesday that LaPierre had spoken with the president, referring to Trump as a “strong” Second Amendment advocate. The group is opposed to universal background checks for gun purchases.
“We discussed the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies. @realDonaldTrump is a strong #2A President and supports our Right to Keep and Bear Arms!” the NRA tweeted.
Then on Wednesday, Trump seemed to reverse himself again, denying that he’d taken the issue off the table.
“We’re going to be doing background checks,” he told reporters.
Trump’s apparent cooling on the idea had come amid a two-week working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Conversations with Democratic lawmakers have also largely stalled, The Washington Post reported, noting that Congress is out of session for its summer recess. But Politico noted Tuesday night that White House aides were still mulling potential responses to the shootings, even as the president’s statements on the matter waffle.
Trump’s reported capitulation to the NRA echoed his response to other mass shootings, including the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and adults dead. Following that event, the president expressed support for universal background checks, but he later pulled back from those plans after meeting with the NRA and went so far as to threaten to veto any proposed gun control measures.
Top Democrats pointed out Trump’s pattern of flip-flopping amid Tuesday’s reports. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the president to support a bipartisan background check bill that has already passed in the House but has languished in the upper chamber.
“These retreats are heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence,” Schumer wrote on Twitter. “If you’re serious about action, the way forward is for [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell to put the bipartisan House-passed background checks bill up for a vote now.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier this week that she prayed the president would listen “to the 90% of Americans who support universal background checks.”
LaPierre’s lobbying efforts come during a period of ongoing turmoil at the NRA. Several board members have jumped ship as the organization deals with a bevy of financial and legal problems, and LaPierre himself has been fending off efforts to oust him amid questions over his spending.
This story has been updated with more comments from Trump on Wednesday.