A sustained effort from National Rifle Association officials, Republican lawmakers and conservative allies helped cement President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon his previous calls for tougher background checks in the wake of recent mass shootings, sources tell CNN.
Trump held a lengthy phone call with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday, one of several the two men have had since massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, touched off the latest national debate about tougher gun legislation.
In the aftermath of the two shootings, Trump signaled support for strengthening background checks, but has since cooled on the idea, repeating a familiar pattern he’s taken in the wake of gun tragedies after news coverage has subsided. A source familiar with the details of Tuesday’s call between Trump and LaPierre, first reported by The Atlantic, said the President told the NRA chief that universal background checks are “off the table.”
But while Tuesday’s call helped solidify the President’s position, it was not the driving force, the sources said. NRA officials, Republican lawmakers and conservative allies together strategized ways to change the President’s mind over strengthening background checks.
Following the shootings, Trump stopped reaching out to his usual Republican allies who he knew didn’t agree with the position he’d taken while calling for stronger background checks. He has since started making his regular calls again, multiple people familiar with the dynamic said.
In their calls over the last two weeks, LaPierre reminded Trump how NRA members helped get him elected, and argued Democrats wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what measure he took. Though LaPierre and Trump have spoken several times in recent days, the NRA boss made clear he felt successful on Twitter afterward.
“I spoke to the President today. We discussed the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies,” LaPierre wrote on Tuesday afternoon, adding Trump was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
A new CNN poll conducted by SSRS suggests a broad appetite nationwide for tighter gun restrictions.
Three in five Americans favor stricter gun control laws (60%), down since polling conducted shortly after the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida (70%), but up compared with polling after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas (52%) and the 2016 mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando (55%).
Almost nine in 10 Democrats favor stricter gun control laws (85%), along with 58% of independents, but just 39% of Republicans agree, the poll found.
In recent days, Trump has pointed to mental health as the primary driver behind gun violence, echoing past NRA talking points, and on Tuesday said there are “very, very strong background checks” in place right now for gun purchases, though he said there are still “missing areas.”
A White House official had earlier denied Trump said universal background checks were off the table. The White House has previously threatened to veto the universal background check legislation passed by the House in February.
Trump, however, has maintained his support for passing so-called “red flag” laws – which allow those who have seen warning signs to seek a court order to intervene and temporarily prevent someone who is in crisis from having access to a firearm – and a source familiar with the ongoing gun control discussions has told CNN the view is such action is more doable in the short term. The source added that there are a lot of legislative proposals still being kicked around and that no decisions have been made.
Trump has also heard from his own team that expanding background checks is not going to play well with his base. Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought is one strong opponent of background checks internally, two White House officials have said, and he has expressed his opposition to Trump. His concerns, shared by many within the White House, is that a background check expansion would gain him few points politically but actively hurt him among his actual supporters.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Maegan Vazquez, Sarah Westwood and Pamela Brown contributed to this report.