An employee reviews a customer's application as part of a background check for a handgun sale, in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Michael Stravato/New York Times/Redux

Why, even now, the prospects for background checks are poor

Donald Trump published a pair of curious tweets this morning, suggesting policymakers could approve a “strong” background-checks bill, “perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”

There’s been no further clarification on what the president might have been talking about. Was he suggesting some kind of trade-off with Democrats on unrelated issues? Was he trying to draw some kind of connection between the native-born white gunmen and immigration? Perhaps this was some kind of conditional warning in which Trump was saying he’ll sign a background-check bill only if Congress meets his demands on immigration policy?

Whatever he meant, every time the president expresses support for a new policy on background checks, reform advocates wonder if maybe there’s a chance for progress. Invariably, that door quickly shuts.

As the Associated Press reported this morning, Trump has “reneged on previous pledges to strengthen gun laws.”

After other mass shootings he called for strengthening the federal background check system, and in 2018 he signed legislation to increase federal agency data sharing into the system. But he has resisted Democratic calls to toughen other gun control laws. […]

At a February meeting with survivors and family members of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting in which 17 people died, Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks.”

Trump claimed he would stand up to the gun lobby and finally get results in quelling gun violence. But he later retreated, expressing support for modest changes to the federal background check system and for arming teachers.

In February 2018, the president wrote on Twitter, “I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks… Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!” Almost exactly a year later, House Democrats passed a bill to require background checks on all gun purchases. The White House issued a veto threat before the legislation even passed the chamber.

In fact, just a few hours after he published a tweet endorsing a “strong” background-checks bill, Trump delivered scripted remarks that failed to echo his earlier tweet.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint statement soon after, noting, among things, “It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation. When he can’t talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA.”