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story.lead_photo.caption During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, President Donald Trump said he was worried about a possible “slippery slope” on gun laws where “all of a sudden everything gets taken away.”

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday that the U.S. already has "very, very strong background checks" for gun purchases, raising questions of whether he is backing away from throwing his political support behind changes to gun laws.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump also noted that "a lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment."

In the days after gunmen opened fire in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio, leaving more than 30 people dead, Trump said he was eager to implement "very meaningful background checks" and told reporters there was "tremendous support" for action.

But more recently, Trump has changed his tone.

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"We have very, very strong background checks right now, but we have sort of missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle," the president said, adding, "I have to tell you, it's a mental problem."

He also said he's worried about the potential risk of a "slippery slope," where "all of a sudden everything gets taken away." Just 11 days earlier, Trump dismissed that very same "slippery slope" thinking, which he attributed to the National Rifle Association. "I don't agree with that," he said then.

The comments drew anger from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, who said that if Trump is serious about action, he should call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put a House-passed background-checks bill up for a vote.

"These retreats are heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence," Schumer tweeted.

Republicans have refused to take up several Democratic-backed gun-control bills that passed in the House, and they historically have opposed many efforts to strengthen the nation's gun laws.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who spoke with Trump earlier this month, said the president expressed support then for working across the aisle "to come up with a background-checks bill that can pass the Senate and save lives." While he said he would wait to hear from Trump again directly, he compared the episode to Trump's flip-flop on background checks in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting after intervention from the NRA.

"It's time for Republicans and President Trump to decide whose side they're on," Murphy said in a statement. "Are they going to stand with the 90% of Americans who want universal background checks, or are they going to once again kowtow to the desires of the gun lobby?"

But a senior White House official pushed back on the notion that Trump was backing away from support for legislative changes, noting that Trump has repeatedly voiced a desire to get something done.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the White House's policy and legislative affairs teams have been discussing potential options, in addition to holding conversations with members of Congress. Those conversations are being led by Eric Ueland, the director of legislative affairs.

The person also said that "meaningful background checks" remain on the table, even after Trump spoke again by phone Tuesday with NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre.

But according to other people familiar with the conversation, Trump assured LaPierre that universal background checks are off the table.

LaPierre tweeted that the two had discussed "the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies," and said Trump is "a strong #2A President and supports our Right to Keep and Bear Arms!"

While two Democrats on Capitol Hill described talks with the White House as largely stalled, others said White House officials have been engaged in continued conversations with Democratic and Republican lawmakers. That includes staff-level conversations with Murphy's office since he spoke with Trump, according to one Senate staff member.

"The White House has been very responsive to our office," said Steve Kelly, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has long pushed a bipartisan expanded-background-check bill with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. "We've had ongoing conversations, at the staff level, with the White House regarding background checks both last week and this week."

Republicans have been trying to build support for more modest measures, including so-called red-flag bills from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would allow friends and family to petition authorities to keep guns away from some people. But those efforts are also running into trouble from conservatives, who worry about due process and infringing on gun owners' rights.

NRA spokesman Amy Hunter said the group "has always supported efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill" and "appreciates the president's desire to find logical ways of accomplishing that goal."

"However, even the most ardent anti-gun advocates would concede expanded background checks would not have stopped any of the recent high-profile shootings," she said.

NRA DEPARTURES

Meanwhile, the NRA continues to deal with internal turmoil as two prominent board members stepped down this week.

NRA officials confirmed Tuesday that country music singer Craig Morgan has left the board, as first reported by CNN, along with Richard Childress, a well-known NASCAR team owner based in North Carolina.

The departure of Childress came after he and then-NRA President Oliver North privately urged the group's leaders in a letter this year to more carefully review spending decisions under LaPierre, particularly legal fees totaling tens of millions of dollars.

In his resignation letter Monday, Childress made no mention of those issues and emphasized that he had chosen to leave the NRA board to focus on his private business.

He said he was resigning from the board and all NRA committees he served on effective immediately, "with great regret and a heavy heart." Childress wrote that he had "reached the point" where he could no longer fully commit his time to the organization.

In a statement, NRA President Carolyn Meadows expressed "deep appreciation" for Childress' service to the group.

"We wish him all of the best in his future business endeavors," she said, adding that the group is "pleased to know that Mr. Childress will continue to support our organization and the constitutional freedoms in which it believes."

The latest resignations mean that seven directors have stepped down from the 76-member NRA board since May, contributing to a period of turmoil at the gun-rights organization. The nonprofit group is facing scrutiny from rank-and-file members and regulators about revelations of lavish spending by LaPierre and top vendors. Democratic attorneys general of New York and Washington, D.C., are currently investigating the NRA's tax-exempt status.

Last year, the NRA cut funding for its core missions of firearm safety and education while increasing its spending on legal fees, travel and entertainment. The Washington Post has also reported that NRA money flowed to 18 members of the group's board of directors, which is tasked with overseeing the nonprofit's finances.

Childress had joined North in asking the organization to hire an independent ethics counsel to review $24 million paid during a 13-month period to an outside law firm hired by the NRA, Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

"The Brewer invoices are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed," Childress and North wrote in their April 18 letter to the NRA general counsel and the audit committee chairman, Charles Cotton, adding, "The secrecy surrounding these large invoices causes suspicion and raises questions."

The Brewer firm and the NRA have defended the payments, saying critics are seeking to undermine the gun-rights group.

Cotton said in a statement Tuesday that the letter from Childress and North was "inaccurate" and reflected "a misinformed view of the firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA."

NRA officials have broadly defended their spending as appropriate and said the group remains as strong as ever. In a recent interview with an Arizona radio talk show, Meadows said the organization continues to have more than 5 million members, adding, "Financially, we're in good shape."

Willes Lee, the NRA's second vice president, said in the same radio interview: "We had a little bit of a dust-up last spring. ... But the big thing is that it's clear that the membership supports the leadership at the NRA."

But the battle over the group's leadership has fueled a spate of departures in recent months. In April, North was ousted as president after trying to force out LaPierre, saying as he stepped down that the group's finances were in "a clear crisis." Top lobbyist Christopher W. Cox resigned after he was accused of participating in an alleged extortion scheme with North to push out LaPierre.

Pete Brownell, a onetime NRA president and board member who heads a major supplier of firearms accessories, left in late May.

At the beginning of this month, three NRA board members who had sought more information about the group's spending practices resigned. The three members -- Esther Schneider of Texas, Sean Maloney of Ohio and Timothy Knight of Tennessee -- said they had been stripped of their committee assignments.

"While our belief in the NRA's mission remains as strong today as ever, our confidence in the NRA's leadership has been shattered," they wrote in a letter to NRA officials.

A fifth board member resigned Aug. 12, when Julie Golob, a professional sport shooter and a strong public advocate for gun rights, announced she was ending her service before the end of her three-year term.

Steve Pincus, an NRA member and firearms trainer who has been helping to lead an effort to overhaul the board, said he expects more resignations before the group's board meeting next month in Anchorage, Alaska. "I'll be surprised if 50 show up," he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Jill Colvin and Kevin Freking of The Associated Press; by Carol D. Leonnig, Beth Reinhard, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post; and by Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Danny Hakim of The New York Times.

A Section on 08/21/2019

Print Headline: Trump defends system of background checks

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Archived Comments

  • Foghorn
    August 21, 2019 at 6:28 a.m.

    He’s right it’s a ‘mental problem’: he’s mental. LaPierre’s days at the helm of NRA are numbered.

  • MBAIV
    August 21, 2019 at 6:47 a.m.

    "However, even the most ardent anti-gun advocates would concede expanded background checks would not have stopped any of the recent high-profile shootings,"
    .
    That's correct. But various so-called loop holes need to be closed - such as covering all gun show sales and perhaps non-family transfers. Of course, that leave two huge holes that have nothing to do law abiding citizens: because many of the crazies have politely been left out of the system, they pass checks, too, and criminals don't get their weapons through channels that do background checks - they are criminals.
    .
    And, as usual, the media/left focus on a few high-profile events and largely ignore the hundreds and hundreds of killings taking place in our large, mostly Dem run cities using guns and other weapons. The refusal to identify and address the social problems that allow this to happen is the larger problem - much larger than the high-profile headlines.

  • RBear
    August 21, 2019 at 6:54 a.m.

    The vast majority of the American public support comprehensive background checks. Pass them NOW!
    ...
    MBAIV once again tries to deflect/divert from the issue. The more Trump digs his heels in the sand over background checks, the more independents will acknowledge he's not serious with dealing with gun violence.

  • MBAIV
    August 21, 2019 at 7:21 a.m.

    RBEAR - I do not oppose background checks. In fact, I said, but you ignored: "But various so-called loop holes need to be closed - such as covering all gun show sales and perhaps non-family transfers." I did not "deflect/divert" anything.
    .
    You can ignore the facts if you like. But background checks will NOT prevent unidentified crazies (as in - not in the system) from buy guns. And criminals will still not being buy guns through channels that do background checks (a in - from other criminals).
    .
    From FBI stats: 64% of gun homicides involve handguns. Just under 4% involve rifles. Overall, about 73% are gun related and 10.5% are knife related.

  • RBear
    August 21, 2019 at 7:23 a.m.

    I stand corrected on that, MBAIV. However, it will take every bit to solve this problem and they will help. They are not the end all, but neither are most preventive measures. The American public wants them, so let’s end this debate and implement comprehensive background checks.

  • MBAIV
    August 21, 2019 at 7:33 a.m.

    Yep. I am FOR closing the background check holes. Now to see if such a bill can be written. What is likely to happen is that a bunch of other stuff will be added and that stuff will prevent the bill from passing. But the folks in Congress who will add that other stuff already know that - hence the reason for adding it. So that they can say they offered a background bill, without mentioning the other stuff, and then say that someone voted against it. And so goes politics in DC.
    .
    Offer a CLEAN bill - and pass it. Hard to do when the objective is the party agenda and not the American people.

  • jwheelii
    August 21, 2019 at 8:13 a.m.

    I think we might be getting somewhere!

  • SeanJohn
    August 21, 2019 at 8:25 a.m.

    Oh My! RBEAR actually said, “I stand corrected”. As in, he was wrong in something he said. Pigs are flying. Hell is freezing over. Cats and dogs are getting along. Politicians are being honest.

    While you’re at it, you can admit that you were incorrect when you said I was wrong about automation being attributed to those that do not want to work. You stated automation was attributed to the lack of skilled labor. As I’m not ignorant on automation, you are partially correct. However, our machines target an industry where the workers are not skilled. A man or woman only need to show up and give a hard day’s work. It’s this demographic, however, that doesn’t want to put in a hard’s day work. They just want to get paid. Our machine, with one operator, can produce the same as two workers working manually. A company can basically remove half of their workforce and keep only the best workers that actually want to work.

  • BoudinMan
    August 21, 2019 at 8:40 a.m.

    Ah, yes, trump and the Swamp Two-Step on the dance floor again. This time with his boss. No, not Boss Putin, but Boss LaPierre. And Moscow Mitch is lurking nearby waiting his turn to cut in. That $34 million from the NRA is playing the tune trump dances to.

  • Retirednwsman
    August 21, 2019 at 8:53 a.m.

    Well, as I predicted after the latest round of mass shootings, once the furor died down, Trumpy, and the rest of the Repubs, and gun and ammo nuts would sweep the whole thing back under the rug and do nothing. Guess we’ll just sit back and wait for the next mass shooting. Stupidity at its Finest.

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