Trump Backs Away From Gun Control Yet Again

As he has in the past, President Trump has backed away from support for any gun control measures in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

Following a pattern we’ve seen before, it seems as though President Trump has abandoned any pretense of supporting any kind of gun control measure in the wake of the shootings earlier this month in El Paso and Dayton:

WASHINGTON — Days after a pair of deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Trump said he was prepared to endorse what he described as “very meaningful background checks” that would be possible because of his “greater influence now over the Senate and over the House.”

But after discussions with gun rights advocates during his two-week working vacation in Bedminster, N.J. — including talks with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association — Mr. Trump’s resolve appears to have substantially softened, and he has reverted to reiterating the conservative positions on the gun issue he has espoused since the 2016 campaign.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday as he departed from New Jersey and returned to Washington, Mr. Trump said he was “very, very concerned with the Second Amendment, more so than most presidents would be,” and added that “people don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now.”

He also echoed the standard response to mass shootings delivered by the N.R.A., which since 1966 has pushed the government to focus on the mental problems of the gunmen rather than how they were able to obtain their guns. “I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t want them to forget that, because it is. It’s a mental health problem.”

At a rally in Manchester, N.H., last week, he noted that “it is not the gun that pulls the trigger, it is the person holding the gun,” paraphrasing a decades-old bumper sticker slogan from the gun rights group.

Mr. Trump’s turnaround is the latest example of the president ultimately capitulating to the views of his populist white and working-class political base, and it came after N.R.A. officials flooded the White House, Congress and governors’ offices around the country with phone calls since the back-to-back mass shootings on Aug. 3 and 4.

White House officials insisted that Mr. Trump would shift back again toward supporting more aggressive legislation in the fall, when lawmakers return from their August recess. But they also said Mr. Trump had sounded less aggressive in private over the past week in discussions about possible gun legislation, a change that coincided with the N.R.A. mounting a full-court press.

Subsequent to this report, the President made additional remarks that appeared to show he was backing away from support for expanded background checks:

President Trump appears to be backing away from potential support for gun background check legislation, according to White House aides, congressional leaders and gun advocates, dimming prospects that Washington will approve significant new gun measures in the wake of mass shootings that left 31 dead.

Immediately after the carnage in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Trump said “there is a great appetite” for tightening background checks on people who buy firearms. But in recent days, Trump has focused in public remarks on the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill while emphasizing that the nation already has “very strong background checks right now” — positions that hew more closely to the views of the National Rifle Association.

Behind the scenes, Trump’s communication with key lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who has sought to develop bipartisan gun-control measures, has gone mostly cold, according to Capitol Hill aides, in part because Congress has left town for its summer recess.

Meanwhile, the president spent most of his time with advisers during his week-long vacation in Bedminster, N.J., focused on other matters, including the possibility of an economic downturn, contentious trade talks with China, his nascent 2020 reelection campaign and concerns about how the media portrayed the size of the crowd at his campaign rally Thursday in Manchester, N.H.

On Monday, Democratic leaders said they viewed Trump’s shifting posture as a sign that he was never serious about leading a push to tighten gun laws.

“We’ve seen this movie before: President Trump, feeling public pressure in the immediate aftermath of a horrible shooting, talks about doing something meaningful to address gun violence, but inevitably, he backtracks in response to pressure from the NRA and the hard-right,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“These retreats from President Trump are not only disappointing but also heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence.”

A White House official rejected the notion that Trump has shifted his stance, pointing to remarks the president made to reporters last week in which he stated support for “strong, meaningful background checks” that would help prevent “people that are insane, people that are mentally ill” from obtaining firearms.

“The president is not backing down,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s position. “The White House continues to work through a policy process and is engaging with congressional staff on several fronts.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen, of course. After the Las Vegas shooting that resulted in the death of nearly 60 people and injury to hundreds more, Trump made public statements that seemed to indicate that he would support some kind of gun control legislation. While his Administration did ultimately issue a ruling banning bump stocks, an add-on to semi-automatic weapons that allows it to function like an automatic weapon, there was no legislative push for any other types of legislation. Similarly, in the wake of the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Trump seemed to endorse a number of ideas, including raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21 and other changes to the law to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others. Once again, though, there was no legislation proposed in either the House or the Senate, both of which were controlled by Republicans at the time, and the issue basically died just as it had after every previous mass shooting.

One impact of Trump’s retreat on gun control has been the fact that Republicans on Capitol Hill also appear to be backing away from previous statements in the wake of the twin shootings earlier this month supporting some gun control measures, although there have been some exceptions such as New York Congressman Peter King, who endorsed a ban on so-called “assault weapons.” King has always been an exception from his fellow Republicans on this issue, though, so his endorsement isn’t that big of a deal. Among rank-and-file Republicans in the House and the Senate, though, it appears that any eagerness to pursue gun control when Congress reconvenes in September has disappeared.

What all this means, of course, is that we’re seeing the same thing that has happened after every other mass shooting incident. Initially, the President will talk about a need to do something like strengthen background checks, raise the minimum purchase age for hunting and other rifles, or expand background checks. Within a short period of time, though, he backs away from that position and starts to return to the standard conservative talking point about the need to emphasize the issue of ‘mental health’ without explaining exactly what that would mean in terms of legislation. The result is that, once again, nothing gets done and nothing happens. It looks like that’s what’s going to happen yet again.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Guns and Gun Control, Politicians, Second Amendment, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. gVOR08 says:

    In other news water is wet.

  2. Kathy says:

    So it’s back to “mental health.” And apparently video games were left off the hook.

    Ok. So what is the big Republican plan to deal with “mental health” in order to prevent further mass shootings?

  3. Kathy says:

    How about including a psychiatric evaluation with all background checks, if it is a “mental health” problem? A recent one, done by a psychiatrist registered with the federal government for the purpose.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Forgive me for being crude and repetitive, but if 20 dead white suburban 6 and 7 year olds didn’t move the needle…

    Maybe the kids at Parkland will stay angry long enough to fix this, but they have a lot of years available to reconcile themselves before they’ll have that kind of political pull–if they ever do at all.

  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And there’s another picture of Trump with that “I eat puppies and kittens for breakfast” smile that he does. Creeps me out!

  6. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Forgive me for being crude and repetitive, but if 20 dead white suburban 6 and 7 year olds didn’t move the needle…

    It may be why so much effort was expended inventing and spreading “false-flag” conspiracies about it.

    You know, if someone shot up a Trump rally, or some other large GOP meeting… But they probably have the kind of security that precludes such things. Just as likely they don’t allow guns inside, either.

  7. Scott F. says:


    I’d be willing to agree with the right about calling the gun crisis in America fundamentally a mental health issue, if the right would agree that gun fetishism is a mental illness and we could screen for that.

  8. steve says:

    This has been and will remain the GOP response to all shootings. Pretend to care for a few days, then do nothing, or block any attempts to do something.


  9. An Interested Party says:

    The trash in the White House, by his own bloviating criteria about “mental health”, should never, ever be allowed to buy any firearm or even a Nerf gun…

  10. Tyrell says:

    @An Interested Party: Is that a flintlock in that picture? I would love to have one of those. The sound they make is incredible. And you don’t have to have a permit in most places. Probably kind of pricey.

  11. Paul L. says:

    Good. I would recommend, as a common sense start, the 3 gun control bills (H.R. 8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, H.R .112 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 and H.R. 1296 Assault Weapons Ban of 2019) that the House passed be amended to only apply to registered Democrats.