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Trump insists US already has ‘strong’ gun background checks

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday that the U.S. already has “very, very strong background checks” for gun purchases in the latest sign that he is backing away from throwing his political support behind changes to the system that are opposed by the powerful gun lobby.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump also noted “a lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment,” and suggested he worries about blurring the contrast between Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

“We have to be very careful about that,” he said.

A gradual rhetorical softening by Trump has taken place in the more than two weeks since gunmen opened fire in El Paso, Texas, then in Dayton, Ohio, leaving more than 30 people dead. Trump said in the tragedies’ wake that he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action.

“We don’t want people that are mentally ill, people that are sick — we don’t want them having guns,” he said.

But in the days since, Trump has changed his tone. He said Tuesday that, while the current system has “sort of missing areas and areas that don’t complete the whole circle,” it is overall “very, very strong” — even though federal law only requires background checks for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers.

And he said he worried about the potential risk of a “slippery slope,” where “all of a sudden everything gets taken away.” Just 11 days earlier Trump dismissed that very same “slippery slope” thinking, which he attributed to the National Rifle Association. “I don’t agree with that,” he said then.

The waffling drew anger from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said if Trump is serious about action he should call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put a House-passed background checks bill up for vote.

“These retreats are heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence,” Schumer tweeted.

Republicans have refused to take up several Democratic-backed gun control bills that passed the House, and historically have opposed many efforts to strengthen the nation’s gun laws.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who spoke with Trump last week, said the president expressed support then for working across the aisle “to come up with a background checks bill that can pass the Senate and save lives.” While he said he would wait to hear from Trump again directly, he compared the episode to Trump’s flip-flop on background checks following the Parkland, Florida, shooting after intervention from the NRA.

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