After back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in early August, President Donald Trump said he would consider “meaningful background checks.”
He changed his mind shortly after, and following another mass shooting in Texas that killed at least seven and injured at least 21, he told reporters at the White House Sunday that he is still against expanding background checks. Instead, he said he’d like to consider “different things.”
“We’re looking at a lot of different things. We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts,” he said.
The president also cast background checks as being limited in their effectiveness: “For the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” Trump said.
And he promised that he is working with lawmakers on a bipartisan basis to pass a “package” of legislative responses to mass shootings.
“We’re in the process of dealing with Democrats, Republicans. They’ve been working very hard on it, they’re coming back very soon,” the president said. “There’s a big package of things that’s going to be put before [Congress], by a lot of different people. We have a lot of groups working on it.”
What package the president spoke of — and whether it actually exists — is not clear. Congress does have a gun reform bill that has passed the house, H.R. 8, that would expand background checks on gun purchases. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up the bill in the upper chamber, and given that it deals with background checks — something Trump has made clear he is against expanding — it seems likely the president would veto the measure even if it passed the Senate.
In speaking with the press, Trump cast his ambiguous “big package of things” as having been working its way through Congress for some time. He said work on it began before news of the latest violence in Texas, when a man went on a shooting rampage following a traffic stop.
“This really hasn’t changed anything,” Trump said. “We’re doing a package. And we’ll see how it comes about. It’s coming about right now. A lot of people are talking about it.”
Praising West Texas law enforcement and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), Trump also called the shooter “a very sick person” and described gun violence as “a mental problem.” Research has suggested that those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun violence than they are mass shooters. This, however, has not stopped Trump from referred to mental illness the root cause of mass shootings, something he also did following the Dayton and El Paso shootings.
Little legislative action has been taken following other mass shootings; however, the Trump administration has pushed limited gun reform before. Following a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Trump banned bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to function like machine guns. While it remains opaque what legislation the president was promoting Sunday, he could help to expand background checks by endorsing them, as he did with the bump stock ban.
And polls suggest he could do so without alienating too much of his base: the majority of Americans support universal background checks on all gun purchases, including those between individuals and at gun shows and online. However, given Democratic demand to pass these reforms and National Rifle Association pressure to block them, it is unlikely Trump would consider once again reversing course on background check to support them.
In fact, Trump’s comments on Sunday are his firmest indication yet that he will not support any new rules on background checks. The president was less explicit about what measures would win his support, however, and given that lack of specifics, it is unclear what actual legislation, if any, will emerge from this week’s violence.