05:45 - Source: CNN
Why passing gun control legislation is so hard
CNN —  

Listen carefully to how President Donald Trump answered a question Sunday about his support for expanded gun control measures:

“So, Congress is working on that. They have bipartisan committees working on background checks and various other things. And we’ll see. I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. I don’t want them to forget that, because it is. It’s a mental health problem. And as I say – and I said the other night in New Hampshire; we had an incredible evening – I said: It’s the people that pull the trigger. It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger.”

And then, when pressed on his recently expressed support for expanded background checks in the wake of twin mass murders in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Trump said this on Sunday: “I’m also very, very concerned with the Second Amendment, more so than most Presidents would be. People don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now.”

Those two responses read like a press release from the National Rifle Association. All the elements are there:

1. Mass shootings are really a mental health issue.

2. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

3. Second Amendment!

4. We need to enforce the laws – on background checks – that are already on the books.

Trump’s responses Sunday on how hard – if at all – he will push Congress when it returns on passing some sort of further gun control laws are a drastic step back from what he was saying even earlier this month.

“I’m looking to do background checks,” Trump said on August 7. “I think background checks are important.” Then, two days later, he said this when asked about expanded background checks: “I really believe that the NRA – I’ve spoken to them numerous times – they’re great people… and frankly I really think they’re gonna get there also.” That same day, Trump said that he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and that the the Kentucky Republican “is totally on board” with expanded background checks. (McConnell’s office made clear that the majority leader hasn’t committed to any proposals yet.)

This latest walkback is in line with what Trump did following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. At a televised meeting with a bipartisan group of senators in February of that year, Trump said this about expanded background checks: “I think people want to get it done.”

Within days – and after a private meeting with the NRA – Trump began shuffling away from that position. No meaningful gun control legislation wound up being passed.

That certainly feels like the path Trump is headed down again. He comes out hot and hard for some sort of real gun control measure in the wake of these all-too-common tragedies and then, when the political realities of Senate Republicans’ skepticism and the NRA’s influence hit home, he starts to change his tune.

All of which is remarkable for at least two reasons.

First, passing universal background checks is a hugely popular idea. In a Fox News poll released last week, 90% of respondents favored universal background checks, including 89% of self-identified Republicans. (Two in three people supported an assault weapons ban, which is broadly viewed as a far larger step than congressional Republicans would even consider.)

Second, the NRA has been badly weakened by a series of leadership controversies in recent months. If ever there was a time when crossing the gun rights group was politically doable, this is it.

And yet, all signs point to Trump actively backing away from rocking the gun rights boat in any real way in the coming months. Why? Likely because he is unwilling to even run the risk of angering his hardcore base between now and November 2020.