Despite universal support, NRA quickly pressures President Trump to drop expanded background checks

A Quinnipiac poll found earlier this year that 93 percent of Americans support background checks for all buyers

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 9, 2019 6:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Jim Watson)
(Getty/Jim Watson)

The National Rifle Association swiftly intervened to pressure President Donald Trump to back off his support for expanded background checks for gun purchases after he called for Congress to act following back-to-back mass shootings last weekend.

Trump visited El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday after mass shootings in both cities left 31 people dead and dozens of others injured. Trump told reporters there was “great appetite for background checks” following the recent massacres.

Trump similarly called for expanded background checks after last year’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but the NRA opposed the measure. It ultimately went nowhere. 

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre acted quickly after the latest pair of mass shootings, reaching out to Trump to pressure him against supporting the expanded background checks bill on Tuesday, the Washington Post reports. LaPierre argued against the bill, claiming it would be unpopular among Trump’s supporters.

It’s not clear exactly whom LaPierre is talking about. A Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this year found that 93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, including 89 percent of Republicans. The poll further found that 87 percent of gun owners supported the measure.

More than 200 mayors sent a letter to the Senate on Thursday calling for Congress to vote on the two bills expanding background checks for gun sales that have already passed the House.

Advisers to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they would not bring any gun legislation to the floor without wide Republican support, according to the Post. Supporters of a bipartisan background checks bill co-sponsored in the Senate by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey said they believe it is unlikely the legislation would garner enough GOP support.

Still, Trump is determined to do something, according to his allies. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Post that Trump has never been a “gun enthusiast” and is “more determined than ever to do something on his watch.”

Manchin told the outlet he spoke with Trump about the bill on both Monday and Tuesday, and the president said he wanted a gun control measure passed by September. Despite Trump’s eagerness, Manchin said the president expressed concerns about the NRA’s warning. 

“We talked about that,” Manchin said. “I told him we don’t expect the NRA to be supportive. Mr. President, in all honesty, when you did the bump stocks, they weren’t for you. They were against that, too. You didn’t take any hit on that.”

The Trump administration used administrative changes to effectively ban bump stocks in March, but the president backed off of his push to pass legislation to ban the device, which essentially turns semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones, like the kind used in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas. 

When Trump has acted on guns, it has been largely to expand access. His administration has quietly implemented more than half a dozen policy changes through regulatory moves to lift bans on guns in certain locations and limit the names of people in a national database intended to keep dangerous people from being able to buy guns. After his calls for at least some gun control following Parkland were met with resistance by the NRA, Trump instead proposed increasing the number of guns by arming teachers in classrooms.

The Toomey-Manchin bill has stalled despite the president’s public comments, and a ban on assault weapons has already been ruled out, the Post reported. Trump said there was “no political appetite” for such a bill Wednesday, but a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of voters back an assault weapons ban, including 55 percent of Republicans. Only 23 percent of voters said they oppose such a ban, but that has not affected the outlook of NRA-backed Republicans.

“There’s no political space for that,” Lindsey Graham told the Post. “So I don’t think he’s going to go down that road.”

The only area where Republicans signaled openness was on so-called “red flag” laws, which Trump has publicly supported. These laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court to ban someone who is deemed a threat from possessing guns. Seventeen states and Washington already have similar laws, but they are rarely ever enforced by police.

Graham has pushed for this law, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the Post he believed it was the “best route forward, because it can pass.”

But even this minor measure has already been met with resistance from Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who expressed concerns over “due process and constitutional rights.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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