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Trump Shifts From Background Checks To Mental Illness Reform At N.H. Rally

President Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester on Thursday in Manchester, N.H.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
President Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester on Thursday in Manchester, N.H.

At his first campaign rally after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump appeared to back away from supporting a possible expansion of background checks in favor of a push for more attention to mental illness.

"There is a mental illness problem that has to be dealt with. It's not the gun that pulls the trigger — it's the person holding the gun," Trump said to roars and a standing ovation from the Manchester, N.H., crowd.

Trump used a similar line immediately after the dual shootings earlier this month at a Walmart in Texas and outside a bar in Ohio, saying that "mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun." In the weeks since, the president has urged Congress to strengthen background checks, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association. He backed red flag laws, which would permit law enforcement officers to temporarily take weapons away from people determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

"Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying ... this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform," Trump tweeted just after the deadly attacks, which happened within a 24-hour span.

"We will see where NRA will be but we need meaningful background checks," Trump said just last week, adding that "on background checks, we have tremendous support for really common-sense, sensible, important background checks."

But at the rally, Trump didn't mention any of those policies. As he was heading to New Hampshire on Thursday, Trump first signaled he was pivoting to mental health, despite the fact that authorities say that the alleged El Paso shooter was motivated by a white supremacist ideology and a desire to kill "Mexicans."

"We don't want to see crazy people owning guns," the president said to reporters. In New Hampshire, he told the crowd that there was a need to "build new facilities for those in need" similar to mental institutions that were shut down decades ago.

"We will be taking mentally deranged and dangerous people off the streets so we won't have to worry so much about that," Trump said.

"We can't make it harder for good solid law abiding citizens to protect themselves. We will always uphold the right to self defense and we will always uphold the 2nd Amendment," the president went on to pledge.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has rebuffed calls from Democrats to end the August recess early and call senators back to tackle gun violence. He has instead said lawmakers should use this time back home to think through proposals, and that the Senate will debate the issues in September; he expects background checks, assault weapons and "red flag" laws to be part of that debate.

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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