Trump flips stance on gun background checks, citing ‘very strong’ laws in place

Lauren Gambino in Washington
Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has again walked back his support for legislation that would tighten background checks on gun sales after a pair of mass shootings left 31 people dead earlier this month.

In the immediate aftermath of the deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump said there was a clear need for “intelligent background checks” and indicated he was willing to use his power to push his party to pass “very meaningful” legislation.

But after conversations from officials with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican lawmakers, Trump has returned to familiar conservative talking points, focusing on the need to keep guns away from the mentally ill and insisting that the US already has “very strong” background laws in place.

Related: 'Dying of whiteness': why racism is at the heart of America's gun inaction

“We have very, very strong background checks right now,” Trump said during an exchange with reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “A lot of the people who put me where I am are strong supporters of the second amendment.”

Echoing a familiar talking point used by the NRA to blunt calls for tightening the nation’s gun laws, Trump warned of a “slippery slope” that could lead to a situation where “everything gets taken away”.

“You approve one thing, and that leads to a lot of bad things,” Trump continued. “I don’t agree with that.”

The Atlantic reported on Tuesday that Trump called the NRA CEO, Wayne LaPierre, on Tuesday afternoon to tell him that any push for legislation to expand requirements for background checks on gun sales was off the table.

Trump has previously suggested Congress do more to prevent gun violence.

After 17 students and teachers were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida last year, Trump suggested Congress should bring forward stricter background checks legislation.

But then, as he is doing now, he backed away from the issue amid pushback from the NRA and Republicans. Trump is wary of any action that might hurt his support among conservative voters as he faces re-election with weak poll numbers and amid warnings of an economic recession.

Democrats have called on the Senate to return to Washington and vote on legislation passed by the House that would expand background checks for gun purchases.

Members of the House judiciary committee will return early from Congress’s summer recess to consider a slate of gun control measures, including a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines; a bill that would prohibit people convicted of a misdemeanor hate crimes from owning a weapon; and a third bill that would encourage states to adopt so-called red flag laws that would allow court officials to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or the public.

Trump declined to comment on those measures, but insisted that he was in a “very meaningful discussion” with Democrats, who he called “not strong at all on the second amendment”.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he will allow a “serious discussion” on the subject after Congress returns from recess in September.

Polling consistently shows an overwhelming majority of Americans – including Republicans – support expanding background checks to include all gun purchases. A Fox News survey found that 89% of registered Republican voters favor universal background checks and 3 in 4 Republicans support red flag laws.

Despite widespread support for such measures, Republican lawmakers remain reluctant to take action.