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Trump Reverses Support Toward Expanding Background Checks


President Trump says the country already has strong background checks for gun purchases. He told reporters Tuesday that the real gun safety issue is mental health. This is a reversal of tone from just a few weeks ago when, after the mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso and Dayton, the president indicated he would support expanding background checks. I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith to talk this through with us. Hi, Tam.


GREENE: So why the change of heart from the president?

KEITH: Well, the president has been talking to a lot of people. Among those people - Wayne LaPierre from the National Rifle Association who, after speaking with President Trump yesterday, tweeted approvingly about the call, saying Trump is a strong Second Amendment president. At the White House yesterday, Trump was asked by reporters where he really stands on background checks because, earlier, he had said he wanted strong background checks; now he's saying something very different.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have very, very strong background checks right now. 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 that it is a mental problem, and I've said it a hundred times - it's not the gun that pulls the trigger; it's the person that pulls the trigger. These are sick people, and it is also that kind of a problem.

KEITH: So just to spell this out, that is very much in line with National Rifle Association talking points. And if it wasn't clear enough from that, Trump was later asked, well, what about a couple of background check bills that have passed the House that would close some of the deficiencies in the background check system? And this is what Trump ended up saying.


TRUMP: A lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment, and I am also. And we have to be very careful about that. You know, they call it the slippery slope, and all of a sudden, everything gets taken away. We're not going to let that happen.

KEITH: Trump really does believe - and I think it's accurate to say - that the NRA and its members were an important part of his base.

GREENE: But, Tam, as I said, after those recent mass shootings, I mean, it looked like there was a lot of momentum, including from the president, around, you know, new solutions. You have Senator Mitch McConnell saying there's going to be a debate on gun control when Congress returns from the August recess. How does the president's change of heart potentially affect all of that?

KEITH: Well, we have seen this movie before. President Trump has in the past taken a strong position, saying even he wanted universal background checks, only to reverse later, to stop talking about it, to get quiet. Here's the thing - this sort of legislation is only going to pass in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, if the Republican president gives them cover, if he takes the lead on it. And if he isn't taking the lead on it, it's almost impossible for something like that to make it through the Senate.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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