One of President Donald Trump’s top spokesmen on Sunday all but confirmed that the White House would not include universal background checks in its proposal for reducing gun violence.
Less than two weeks ago, at a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers at the White House, Trump expressed support for the idea.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah shied away from an embrace of that position during an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” His backtracking was consistent with Wall Street Journal reporting from Saturday and what many skeptics had predicted.
Host Jon Karl reminded Shah of what Trump had said at the Feb. 28 meeting ― in particular, the president’s support for universal background checks.
“I was in the room when he was negotiating with congressional leaders,” Karl said. “He … made it very clear that he favors universal background checks on all gun purchases.”
Karl then asked it that would be part of the administration’s legislative recommendations to Congress
“Well, improving the background check system is going to be a big component of…” Shah said, before Karl interrupted him.
“He didn’t say improving, he said making them universal,” Karl said.
“I understand, but I’m saying improving background checks from the ‘Fix NICS’ legislation” would be part of the proposal, as well as other measures, Shah said.
NICS is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is already in place. “Fix NICS” is a bill sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to bolster the system by improving the flow of information into it from states and various federal agencies.
In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, the bill has widespread support. But what it calls for is far less ambitious than universal background checks. That provision would extend NICS so that it includes private sales, such as those that often occur at gun shows.
At the White House meeting, Trump surprised many of his allies by saying he supported a universal background check proposal that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) had tried and failed to pass in 2013.
Opposition by nearly all Republicans and a handful of Democrats left the bill a few votes short of the 60 it needed to pass the Senate.
Other administration officials have previously walked back Trump’s comments at last month’s session with lawmakers. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said just two days later that Trump did “not necessarily” support universal background checks.
Many experts believe that such expanded checks have the potential to reduce gun violence, especially if they were part of a broader, more stringent licensing system of the kind a few states have in place.