Indeed, Trump has flirted with expanded background checks before, only to pull back in the face of pressure from the gun lobby and from 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.”
It never happened.
If anything, the White House had been moving in the opposite direction prior to last weekend’s massacres in Dayton and El Paso. In February, for example, the White House threatened to veto House-passed legislation that would have expanded background checks.
Read: The baggage Trump brought to Dayton
“Background checks, gun control, and Second Amendment issues are the third rail in Republican politics—as much as abortion is in Democrat politics,” said a senior Trump-administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue more freely.
As for what action might come, the official said, “All available options will be explored. Someone will put together both legislative and executive-actions options, and we’ll see what’s politically feasible on the Hill.”
Trump’s advisers have also pointed out that the shooters in El Paso and Dayton passed background checks, making it unlikely that the House bill would have stopped them.
Trump spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer separately by phone yesterday, and the two leaders said that while they received no commitment from the president, he agreed to review the background-checks bill the House passed earlier in the year. It’s unlikely that bill would win over enough Republicans in the Senate, but there is discussion about reviving the compromise proposal from Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. That bill fell short following the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
As one senior Republican aide put it yesterday, “I think Trump is serious until he sees that his base will lose their minds over it.”
For any significant gun-control measures to pass, the president will need to make a sustained push in private and in public—not just now, but through the lengthy August recess and into September. And based on recent history, both parties have reasons to doubt that will happen.