Donald Trump called for 'strong background checks' after El Paso and Dayton. Now? Crickets

USA Today Opinions 1 month ago

"We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. ... Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks."

President Donald Trump wrote those words at the height of a bloody summer of mass killings in America, including the massacres of 22 people in El Paso and nine in Dayton during the first weekend in August. On Aug. 9, the president told reporters that "we have tremendous support for really commonsense, sensible, important background checks." 

Reinforcing the case for more inclusive background checks, a rifleman — who had circumvented gun laws by purchasing his firearm in a private sale, according to news reports — fatally shot seven along West Texas highways on Aug. 31.

Yet some 50 days after El Paso and Dayton, there's barely the sound of crickets emanating from the White House on the subject of gun safety. "We're going very slowly," Trump said last week, apparently in reference to some plan for reform. 

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump promised her in a phone call that "we were getting close to a solution," though what that means isn't clear.

What is apparent is that Trump's avowal to expand background checks on firearm purchases, something favored by 9 out of 10 Americans, appears to have stalled amid infighting within his administration.

It's not as if there's a lack of ideas teed up for Congress. The House already passed universal background check legislation in February. A slightly lesser, bipartisan Senate version is ready from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would extend background checks to all commercial sales, including those on the internet and at gun shows.

Last week, Attorney General Bill Barr floated something similar to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he wants to know what Trump would sign before he puts legislation on the Senate floor.

Why the foot-dragging? Evidently, Trump's previously impassioned desire not to see mass killing victims die in vain has given way to cold, hard political calculus. According to a Politico analysis, he's caught between warring White House advisers. There are those who rightly urge him to give Americans what they overwhelmingly support, and those who warn him about the political dangers of crossing the National Rifle Association and gun-rights absolutists.

So the clock runs. Even as gun safety activists prepare to rally Wednesday at the Capitol, the news cycles are dominated by Trump's dealings with Ukraine, his standoff with Iran and his fights with California. Will politicians and the public forget this summer's horrific toll and move on, at least until the next massacre?

That can't be allowed to happen. Not again. 

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