As America reels from a weekend of two deadly mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, and questions resurface about what the federal government can do to stem gun violence, it is not entirely clear what approach President Trump will take, since his response to the issue has varied.
On Monday morning, the president tweeted that Republicans and Democrats should work together to roll immigration reform and stricter background check requirements into one legislative package. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said the president was supportive of stricter background check measures when they spoke with him separately Monday morning, too. But, the president made no mention of background checks in his list of possible responses to mass shootings.
At times, the president has expressed much more openness to gun control than some of his fellow Republicans. In a February 2018 meeting at the White House in the wake of the Parkland high school massacre, the president mocked some Republicans at the table for being “petrified” of the National Rifle Association, insisting he had more flexibility and wasn’t so afraid of the powerhouse gun lobby. At the time, the president expressed openness to increasing the age for purchasing a rifle from 18 to 21. But the president ultimately pulled back from that proposal.
The president has expressed support for stricter background checks in the past, even though he’s railed against gun control more generally.
Asked by someone on Twitter in 2013 what he thinks of gun control, Mr. Trump — before he was running for president — Mr. Trump tweeted, “Big Second Amendment believer but background checks to weed out the sicko’s are fine.”
In a 2015 interview with gun magazine AmmoLand, the president said background checks don’t need to be expanded — the current system isn’t working.
“I do not support expanding background checks. The current background checks do not work,” he told the magazine in an interview he promoted on his Twitter page.
After the Parkland shooting, the president pushed for stricter background checks. “Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House,” he tweeted in March 2018. “Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.”
But just in February, the president threatened to veto legislation that would have required background checks for most gun purchases or transfers. The legislation, which passed the House, never made it to the Senate floor.
However, the president appeared to be reversing himself on the issue Monday when he tweeted, “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks” before failing to mention that in his address.
Confiscating guns from people who could pose a threat
After the Parkland shooting, the president, during a meeting with members of Congress, supported taking guns away from potentially dangerous people early and worrying about due process later.
“I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida … to go to court would have taken a long time,” the president said at the time.
“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” he added.
That approach was met with some alarm by Second Amendment advocates.
Now, the president has voiced his support for “red flag” laws, a tool used by some states to allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from people found to be at risk.
In his Monday remarks, the president said, “we must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
Mr. Trump did follow through on his pledge to ban bump stocks, after saying he would do so. A bump stock — a device that turns a firearm into a firearm that operates like an automatic weapon — was used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The Supreme Court is so far declining to stop the administration from enforcing the ban.
On “assault weapons”:
In his 2000 book “The America We Deserve,” the president said he supports a ban on assault weapons.
“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” Mr. Trump wrote at the time.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban enacted in 1994 expired in 2004 prohibited the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms. Fully automatic weapons that reload and fire continuously with the single pull of the trigger have long been banned for civilian use.
Often, people refer to semi-automatic firearms, particularly semi-automatic rifles, when they mention “assault weapons.” In his 2015 interview with AmmoLand, Mr. Trump said the AR-15 doesn’t qualify as an “assault rifle.”