CT lawmakers decry Trump retreat on gun background checks
WASHINGTON — Connecticut Democratic lawmakers and gun-control advocates were among those decrying President Donald Trump’s apparent backtracking on expanded background checks, which he favored in the aftermath of the mass shootings earlier this month in El Paso and Dayton.
“I’m disappointed but not the least bit surprised that the president is backing off,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.
Federal law already requires background checks for purchases from federally licensed gun dealers, mostly in stores. But the law has long made an exception for private transactions among those whose income is not primarily derived from gun sales.
The Democratic-controlled House in February passed a bill would require background checks on all transactions except those involving immediate family members. It also permits the loaning of guns among hunters and those in situations where a gun is "necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm."
But the bill was never taken up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls what legislation goes to the Senate floor.
Connecticut lawmakers said they saw the thumbprint of the National Rifle Association on Trump’s backing away from what appeared to be full-throated support of expanded background checks after the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings.
“We’ve seen this play out again and again, the president pretends to have conviction then runs back to his NRA approved talking points,” said Rep. Jim Himes. “The House has passed bipartisan background check legislation and the President and Mitch McConnell could, and should, act on that tomorrow. It’s clear that the President is refusing to save lives in the service of an industry.”
Trump’s reversal came just over a week after he declared, “we need meaningful background checks so that sick people don’t get guns.” Trump added that McConnell was “totally on board.”
Despite refusing to bring up background checks, McConnell said gun legislation would be “front and center” when the Senate returns from its summer break.
McConnell also hinted at approval of a “red flag” measure, modeled on Connecticut’s 1999 law. The proposal would permit family members, friends and law enforcement to petition a judge for temporary seizure of guns from troubled individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been the chief backer of the bill in the Senate.
Last week at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump signaled his most recent reversal by repeating a favored National Rifle Association line: “It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger, it’s the person holding the gun.”
Then on Sunday as he prepared to return to Washington after a week-long vacation at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump emphasized treatment for mental illness as the key to prevention of mass shootings while shrugging at expanded background checks.
While not shutting the door on any prospective bill, Trump said: “People don't realize we have very strong background checks right now.”
Trump acknowledged talking to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. “I've had a great relationship with the NRA, and I will always have a great relationship,” Trump said. “I've been very good for the NRA.’
Democrats in Connecticut and elsewhere were quick to pounce.
“Republicans in Congress and the White House cannot continue to do nothing,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “We have lost far too many lives to gun violence, and continued inaction dishonors those who have been killed. We all have a moral responsibility to act now.”
They pointed out the latest reversal recalled Trump’s backtracking last year after the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Numerous political observers and commentators pointed out that the pro-Second-Amendment portion of Trump’s base has given him crucial support, and that absence of their enthusiasm could cost Trump his 2020 re-election bid.
Trump’s position appeared to satisfy the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, which had expressed worry that background checks on most private transactions (including those at gun shows) would put an undue burden on federally licensed gun dealers. Under federal law, licensed dealers must complete background checks on all firearms sales.
“The National Shooting Sports Foundation is willing to discuss … sincere ideas that will address the issues directly while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens,” said NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva, who noted the organization, which is the main trade group for the firearms business. “We have real solutions for safer communities. We’ve invested in them and we’re committed to them because we know they work.”
Oliva noted the NSSF’s support last year for Fox-NICS, which helped states input more disqualifying records into the FBI’s National instant Criminal Background Check System — especially those of persons with mental illness.
But he called the House-passed bill on background checks a “non-starter.”