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Trump’s enthusiasm for universal background checks was halted by one call to the NRA

The president was reportedly enthusiastic about the idea. The NRA, not so much.

(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump was reportedly enthusiastic — at least momentarily — about holding a Rose Garden ceremony to sign a gun-control bill that included expanding background checks for gun purchases. He was so thrilled about the prospect of that historic act, in fact, that he called the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre to tell him about it, assuring him that he’d give the organization “cover” from any backlash.

“It’s going to be great, Wayne, they will love us,” he reportedly said, referring to the NRA’s members.

LaPierre’s answer was short: “No.”

That phone call and the buzz around the proposed Rose Garden ceremony within the White House was detailed in a new report Tuesday from The Atlantic’s Elaina Pott, who spoke to a former senior White House official, several NRA officials, and others familiar with the conversations. The call in which Trump got the “No” on expanded background checks from LaPierre took place August 7, just days after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and less than two weeks after another shooting in Gilroy, California, that left four people dead.

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The report jibes with what’s publicly known about how quickly Trump himself has lowered expectations about any real solutions to curb gun violence. Two days after that first call, he tweeted that he had spoken to the NRA — which is currently dealing with its own set of internal problemsand assured them “that their very strong views” would be “fully represented and respected.” By this week, Trump was refusing to answer any questions about whether he supports background checks, returning to his campaign line that such screenings were already in use and didn’t work.

As it turns out, Trump called LaPierre back Tuesday and assured him that universal background checks were off the table. Any previous chatter of taking executive action has dissipated. His new solutions instead focus on “increasing funding” for mental-health care and increasing prosecutions of “gun crime” through federal firearms charges.

Neither of these solutions will have any impact on gun violence: most people with mental health issues are not violent and most mass shooters are not mentally ill.

As for “gun crime” charges, Trump’s Justice Department boasted last year that it had smashed previous records on gun crime and violent crime prosecutions — but that enforcement had no discernible effect on the number of mass shootings.

The only hope now is that when Congress finally returns from recess in mid-September, lawmakers use any remaining momentum to actually create some kind of change through gun legislation that can shift Trump’s peripatetic mind and obedience to the NRA. Polls suggest, however, that it is only shootings themselves that ignite public passions enough to create the political pressure necessary for progress.