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Trump’s Phone Calls With NRA’s Wayne LaPierre

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At the time, his words seemed to indicate a softening of sorts, as though Trump had completed the transition from wanting to seriously consider universal background checks to being dead set against them. But sources close to this president told me that Trump’s eventual siding with the NRA was never in question. “Trump always knew where he had to end up,” a GOP operative in constant contact with the White House told me.

The gun lobby certainly made sure of it. Over the past two weeks, even after quickly batting down Trump’s Rose Garden fantasy, NRA officials continued to flood the White House and Congress alike with calls. They communicated with White House staffers, if not the president himself, up to several times a day. According to the NRA official, there was even talk of LaPierre joining Trump last week in Bedminster.

This is not to say it was easy for the NRA to change Trump’s mind. Following the El Paso and Dayton shootings, Ivanka Trump made several calls to GOP lawmakers in an effort to mobilize support for both universal background checks and so-called red-flag laws, which would allow law enforcement or family members to keep guns from individuals deemed to be dangerous by a court order. But if her influence was in any way an obstacle for the gun group, it was short-lived: By the middle of last week, she and her family had decamped for a vacation in Wyoming, seemingly putting the issue on the back burner, and last night she appeared at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s donor retreat in Jackson Hole. According to Axios, Ivanka told the audience in Wyoming that the White House is still focused on background checks. Less than 24 hours later, her father reportedly assured LaPierre of the opposite. (A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump did not return a request for comment.)

Three NRA officials told me they’ve focused their efforts in the past week on walking Trump through nearly 40 mass shootings in which the gunmen obtained their firearms legally. “Once he understood” that universal background checks would not have prevented many of these massacres, according to the first former senior White House official, “the temperature changed.” They were heartened, then, to hear Trump tell the crowd at his rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, last Thursday that gun violence was mainly a “mental-illness problem” and that “it is not the gun that pulls the trigger; it is the person holding the gun.”

The only worry now, the former senior White House official told me, is that once Congress returns from recess and talk of gun-control legislation restarts, Trump will change his mind yet again. White House and NRA officials alike fear a repeat of a moment that took place after the Parkland, Florida, massacre in February 2018, when Trump convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers and suggested, on television, an assault-weapons ban as part of a gun-reform package. (No such plan was brought to fruition.)

However, an NRA spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, told me that any new move from the White House would come with a price. “To those who know our members and understand the issue, they realize that if they support any ban, registration scheme, or other draconian gun-control measures, our members will demand accountability,” he said. “And our members have long memories.”

Christian Paz contributed reporting.

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