Trump says Republicans ready to impose gun background checks

US President Donald Trump. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Friday that fellow Republicans will set aside resistance to restricting access to firearms by supporting background checks for people buying weapons in the wake of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas.

The progress in efforts to curb the United States’ freewheeling relationship with firearms came despite talks between Trump and the head of the fierce NRA gun lobby, Wayne LaPierre.

Republicans have long resisted imposing background checks on gun buyers, a measure that the powerful NRA argues would be the thin end of the wedge, leading to ever tighter restrictions on the constitutional right to carrying weapons.

But after 31 people were shot dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend – just the latest in an ever growing list of bloodbaths carried out by men with powerful rifles – political momentum has apparently shifted.

Trump said that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was “totally onboard” with background checks.

Even “hardline” gun rights supporters in the Republican party “understand we don’t want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people” buying firearms, Trump told reporters at the White House.

He said he’d spoken with LaPierre and had “a good talk.”

But despite describing the NRA as “phenomenal people” and insisting that no other president has been more supportive of gun rights, Trump said “we need meaningful background checks so that sick people don’t get guns.”

LaPierre on Thursday had rejected calls for tougher restrictions on firearms, indicating he’d raised those concerns with Trump.

“The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton,” LaPierre said in a statement.

No recall of Congress

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Trump to bring the Senate into session to debate gun control legislation previously approved by House Democratic lawmakers, including a bill passed in February mandating federal criminal background checks.

“Common sense background checks are supported by more than 90% of the American people and are proven to save lives,” Pelosi wrote Thursday in a letter to the president.

Backed by than 200 US mayors who wrote to McConnell to demand that the Senate reconvene, Pelosi evoked “an extraordinary moment in our history (that) requires all of us to take extraordinary action.”

But despite the apparent shift in White House and Republican positions on the issue, Trump and Senate leaders said there’s no need to call legislators back from their summer break.

“I think we’ll have a very good package by the time they come back,” Trump said.

Trump and the Republicans also seem certain to oppose Democrats’ call for banning assault weapons – the military style rifles commonly used in mass killings.

Gun lobbyists argue that rifles like the AR-15 are hugely popular, legitimate weapons for hunting and self-defence.

McConnell has previously stifled congressional efforts to expand gun controls amid Republicans’ fears that they could suffer at ballot box in next year’s elections.

The El Paso and Dayton shooters used semi-automatic weapons, which can be legally bought in most US states, to mow down large numbers of people in minutes or even seconds.