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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is insisting that the U.S. already has "very, very strong background checks" for gun purchases. It's the latest sign that he is backing away from throwing his political support behind changes to the system that are opposed by the powerful gun lobby.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump also noted "a lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment," and he suggested he worries about blurring the contrast between Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

"We have to be very careful about that," he said.

A gradual rhetorical softening by Trump has taken place in the more than two weeks since gunmen opened fire in El Paso, Texas, then in Dayton, Ohio, leaving more than 30 people dead. Trump said in the tragedies' wake that he was eager to implement "very meaningful background checks" and told reporters there was "tremendous support" for action.

"We don't want people that are mentally ill, people that are sick — we don't want them having guns," he said.

But in the days since, Trump has changed his tone. He said Tuesday that, while the current system has "sort of missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle," it is overall "very, very strong" — even though federal law only requires background checks for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers.

And he said he 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 waffling drew anger from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said 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 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 the House, and historically they have opposed many efforts to strengthen the nation's gun laws.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who spoke with Trump last week, 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 following the Parkland, Florida, 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?"

Trump, who has reversed course on gun issues throughout his adult life, had insisted when pressed by skeptical reporters earlier this month that this time would be different because the composition of the House and Senate had changed.

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 the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that the White House's policy and legislative affairs teams have been discussing potential options, in addition to ongoing conversations with members of Congress led by Eric Ueland, the director of legislative affairs.

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

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

While two Democrats on the 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 last Sunday, according to one Senate staffer.

"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.

Meanwhile, NRA spokeswoman 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. "In order to reduce gun deaths, we must address the root causes of crime."


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Archived Comments

  • 3WorldState1
    August 21, 2019 at 12:06 p.m.

    Since you won’t see this in this paper.
    “Turns out hiring wasn't nearly as strong in 2018 and early 2019 as the government initially reported — by about a half-million jobs. The U.S. economy had about 501,000 fewer jobs as of March 2019 than the Bureau of Labor Statistics initially calculated in its survey of business establishments. The newly revised figures indicate the economy didn't get a huge boost last year from President Trump's tax cuts and higher federal spending.”
    Tax cuts I.e redistribution to the wealthy did nothing. Continuation of the last admin. And

  • wowy
    August 21, 2019 at 1:27 p.m.

    Juanbrummsquirter go Cuba
    Get house boy and room and board
    You go Juan
    Queer demOzette
    Get article from Juan in Cuba
    "Rice only"
    House boy have AIDS
    Li in the dream
    wowy laugh at Juan
    "Believe in reincarnation Juan"

  • MS6321
    August 21, 2019 at 1:39 p.m.

    3WORLDSTATE1 & WOWY, Whether you guys are insane, on drugs, or just dumb as a rock, neither of you should qualify to even look at a picture of a gun!

  • abb
    August 21, 2019 at 3:01 p.m.

    If you think NICS/4473s are hard, just try doing an ATF form 1,3, or 4 with the inept NFA branch of ATF.

  • 3WorldState1
    August 21, 2019 at 5:47 p.m.

    Sorry ms. I just posted facts from this administration. So I can’t have a gun because I post facts given by this admin?
    Now who sounds crazy?

  • Retirednwsman
    August 21, 2019 at 6:40 p.m.

    About face by Trumpy as usual after the NRA threatened to kick his a$$ if he continued to push for stronger background checks. Probably Moscow Mitch was in the fray also. They’re ready to sweep all of this under the rug, and get ready for the next mass shooting. Just like clockwork.

  • wowy
    August 21, 2019 at 7:27 p.m.

    you like wowy
    wowy like ms69
    you no likey
    bye bye
    wowy use gun long barrel
    big bore
    you likey?
    wowy no gay,
    you likey big boy?

  • cwbird
    August 22, 2019 at 1:34 a.m.

    I get so tired of "reporters" parsing out every word that my President says to be able to accuse him of some evil intent. This article is just full of such parsing and pejorative remarks against our President.

    Get the message: The President is taking back America from the elitist "we're smarter than you deplorables, you crazies" and giving it back to the people.

    I've never seen a politician of any flavor at any level of government, Republican, Democrat, or whatever with the absolute determination to do what is right for America. His campaign promises were all directed this way and he has either delivered on or made very strong efforts to deliver on every one of his promises. And he has further delivered many things that are great for America that are over and above what was mentioned in the campaign.

    But the President has not and I am convinced will not govern the country according the generally accepted practices of politicians, nor according to the thoughts of the elitists that are most generally found on the East Coast and the West Coast. According to the elitists, we here in the middle of the country have no idea what is good for us, but they do. And so they refer to us, to me, as deplorable (to quote Hillary Clinton).

    But the country that the elitists would have for us is socialist. And socialism means elitists gain control of everything and take away our freedoms. The Bill of Rights is anathema to them. Yes, we're free to speak, but only if we agree with them.

    Its time for Arkansans and Americans to realize that our President is for US (the United States and every one of us) and begin to support him.

  • Retirednwsman
    August 22, 2019 at 7:12 a.m.

    CWBIRD...Man, you have not only drunk the orange kool-aide, but it has totally eaten up your brain. Your narcissistic egomaniac president has only HIS interests and fortune on his mind. He doesn’t give a rat’s a$$ about you or me or anyone else in this country. But, people like you have bought the snake oil salesman’s line of crap completely, so there is no hope for you.

  • Illinoisroy
    August 22, 2019 at 3:59 p.m.

    CW, I give you the bird!