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Trump says US needs 'meaningful background checks' on gun holders

Trump’s comments follow mass shootings in Ohio and Texas last weekend in which 31 people died.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Aug 9th 2019, 7:52 PM

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump has said fellow Republicans will set aside resistance to restricting access to firearms by supporting background checks for people buying weapons.

Trump’s comments follow mass shootings in Ohio and Texas last weekend. 31 people were killed in the two attacks. 

The progress in efforts to curb the US 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.

However, after last week’s shootings, political momentum has apparently shifted.

Trump said that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was “totally on board” 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 yesterday 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.

Visit to victims

On Wednesday, Trump met victim of the two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. 

He flew to El Paso, Texas, where a self-declared white supremacist murdered 22 people last weekend at a Walmart heavily frequented by customers of Hispanic origin.

He spent about an hour and a half at a hospital with staff and victims before he and his wife Melania were driven to the city’s emergency operations centre to meet with police officers.

Trump has today been criticised after an image emerged of him being pictured with his wife and a baby whose parents died in the El Paso shooting. Trump is seen smiling and giving a thumbs up while Melania holds the baby. 

CNN reporter Jim Acosta tweeted that a hospital official confirmed the CNN that the baby was brought back to the hospital to meet the Trumps after he had been discharged. He added that the two-month-old’s parents died protected him during the shooting. 

Trump has received backlash over the photo on social media. 

 No recall of Congress

Meanwhile, 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.

“Commonsense background checks are supported by more than 90% of the American people and are proven to save lives,” Pelosi wrote yesterday 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-defense. 

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.

Includes reporting by © AFP 2019

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