After neglecting to mention “guns” in his remarks on the Parkland school shooting, President Trump signaled his support for legislation that would strengthen background checks. The president had previously suggested mass shootings could be resolved primarily through addressing mental health.
“The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote in a statement reported by the Washington Post. She added that on Friday, Trump had spoken with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn about legislation the Texas senator had introduced in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting.
Cornyn cosponsored The Fix NICS Act of 2017 with Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who is an outspoken advocate for gun control. While Sanders said “revisions are being considered,” the bill in its current form would create incentives for states to report criminal infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, hold federal agencies accountable for submitting criminal records to NICS, and create a “Domestic Abuse and Violence Prevention Initiative” to encourage states upload domestic violence records. (Many mass shooters have a history of domestic abuse.)
It’s no coincidence that Cornyn, who received more money from the National Rifle Association during the 2014 election cycle than any other Republican senator, supported this bill after Sutherland Springs; Devin Kelley, the gunman responsible for the church shooting, had a domestic violence record that should have barred him from buying a rifle in the first place, but the Air Force had failed to enter his court-martial into the federal database. The NRA even tweeted support for Cornyn’s bill, but at the time of the shooting, Trump opposed the idea of “vetting” would-be gun buyers, arguing that mental health, and not access to firearms, was the underlying issue.
Trump’s support of background check legislation—which passed in the House when merged with the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, an NRA darling—comes after a weekend of sustained activism from the student survivors of the Parkland shooting, who have been speaking out on social media, making appearances on Sunday television, and announcing a “March for Our Lives” protest. It was a smart strategy to reach our cable news-loving president, whom the Washington Post reports asked Mar-a-Lago guests what stance he should take on gun control and told them he’d been watching the students’ television appearances.
While Murphy and Cornyn’s bill has bipartisan backing, gun control efforts have stalled after other mass shootings. And while it doesn’t erase his widely lambasted initial response to the shooting, from turning the tragedy into yet another attempt to criticize the FBI’s Russia probe to thumbs-up photo-ops, at least Trump’s support of improved background checks is an incremental step towards progress. In the words of Parkland student David Hogg, speaking on NBC News’ Meet the Press, “This is not the time for inaction and debate. … By this point, it’s unacceptable.”
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