Trump again distances himself from background checks same day he talks to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre

He had promised "meaningful" background checks after recent mass shootings.

August 21, 2019, 12:53 AM

After President Donald Trump appeared to respond to a groundswell of public support for tougher gun sale background checks following recent mass shootings, his language -- and possibly his stance -- on new gun control measures seems to be softening after a discussion with NRA head Wayne LaPierre Tuesday.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump told reporters "we have to have very meaningful background checks" as he left the White House just days following the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

"We need intelligent background checks. This isn’t a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat," he said on Aug. 9.

But now, as time has elapsed, and with Congress still away on its August recess, Trump on Tuesday appeared to back off on any new push background checks, again calling mental health the actual problem.

“We have strong background checks right now,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “But we have sort of missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle. And we're looking at different things and I have to tell you it's a mental problem, I said it 100 times, it's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger.”

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, N.J., Aug. 18, 2019.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Trump had a lengthy conversation Tuesday with LaPierre, chief executive for the National Rifle Association, multiple senior level sources confirm to ABC News. During their talk, the president told LaPierre he does not support universal background checks, however, that does not mean background check legislation is off the table.

LaPierre confirmed the conversation took place, but offered no specifics.

White House officials have been speaking with Congress about legislative options, sources have told ABC News, and the administration has had conversations with the president’s reelection team about how any potential action would impact Trump’s support among his base.

"I'm saying Congress is going to be reporting back to me with ideas," the president told reporters Sunday as he prepared to board Air Force One in Morristown, New Jersey.

"And they'll come in from Democrats and Republicans. And I'll look at it very strongly. But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks. OK?"

Congress passed legislation -- FIX NICS -- in the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs Church shooting in Texas in November 2017 that claimed 26 lives. The measure was aimed at penalizing government agencies for not reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

But whether there's political support in Congress for stronger background checks is still in question. A bill proposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey would significantly extend background checks to include gun shows, and even internet sales.

Trump previously said background checks would keep guns out of the hands of "sick" and "deranged" people, although medical experts say mental illness is not the main reason shooters carry out mass murders, such as the El Paso and Dayton shootings.

These are people that have to be in institutions for help," he said. "I'm not talking about as a form of a prison I'm saying for help."

Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway on Monday doubled down on the president’s remarks, but made no mention of the racially motivated El Paso shooting that killed 21 people, given the president’s reversal on background checks.

"When the president says we need to fix the mental health system, ‘look at mental health, he's not saying everybody who's in treatment for mental health is a shooter," Conway said.

"What he's saying is that we have specific incidences where that has been an issue and has been ignored."

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