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Will Trump Change Gun Laws?

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Speaking to reporters outside the White House before leaving for fundraising events in the Hamptons, Trump this morning repeatedly said that he wants to impose what he called “meaningful” background checks that would keep guns away from “bad people, dangerous people.”

“I think the Republicans are going to lead the charge, along with the Democrats,” Trump said.

Perhaps most significantly, Trump’s movement is causing Republicans on Capitol Hill to shift, creating a new window of opportunity for proposals that have stalled in Congress. In an interview with a local radio station in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a staunch supporter of gun rights, said a debate over red-flag laws and background checks would be “front and center” when lawmakers return from their August recess next month. McConnell rejected calls to bring the Senate back early, and he wouldn’t commit passage or even a vote on either issue. But it was significant that the majority leader acknowledged the overwhelming support in public polling for stronger background checks and signaled a genuine desire to pass legislation out of the Senate. “What we can’t do is fail to pass something. By just locking up and failing to pass, that’s unacceptable,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome and not just a bunch of partisan back-and-forths, shots across the bow.”

Yet the president, in his tweets and in his comments to reporters, is not vowing an all-out fight with the National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobbying group that has mobilized both legislators and voters against new restrictions for decades. Trump said he hoped to win over the NRA and its CEO, Wayne LaPierre. “I think in the end Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral,” Trump said. “And that would be okay, too.”

Though hobbled by internal strife and multiple state investigations, the NRA has given no indication it plans to stand down. And Trump’s unwillingness to battle the organization in the past has left both Democrats and his own aides skeptical that this time will be different. “Dems have been down this path before with the president only for the NRA and Republicans to rein him back in, so we’re cautious,” said one Democratic congressional aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid perspective.

Indeed, Trump has flirted with expanded background checks before, only to pull back in the face of pressure from the gun lobby and conservative voices on Capitol Hill and inside his own White House. In February 2018, after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, Trump invited students and parents to the White House to discuss gun violence. He used the occasion to tout a plan to arm teachers and coaches (a plan favored by the NRA), but he also made a case for expanding background checks on people purchasing guns. He said that “we’re going to be very strong on background checks. We’re going to be doing very strong background checks.”

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