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How Trump Has Responded To Mass Shootings Throughout His Presidency

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump is once again talking about gun policy following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Throughout his presidency, Trump has spoken about bold action on guns and then backtracked.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith looks at his record.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's become almost ritual now - a presidential statement from the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House after yet another shocking mass shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRES DONALD TRUMP: My fellow Americans.

My fellow Americans.

My fellow Americans.

We are joined together today in sadness, shock and grief. Today

I speak to a nation in grief.

Our nation is overcome with shock, horror and sorrow.

KEITH: That last bit was just yesterday. But beyond condolences, shock and sadness, policy solutions have been far more difficult to pin down. Today at a speech in Northern Virginia, Vice President Mike Pence made this pledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRES MIKE PENCE: Our administration is working with members of Congress to ensure that all those who pose a risk to public safety are denied access to firearms.

KEITH: It's not entirely clear what that means. Yesterday morning, President Trump tweeted that Republicans and Democrats need to come together for strong background checks. Three hours later, in an address to the nation, Trump made no mention of background checks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

KEITH: It's something Trump keeps coming back to. After mass shootings when he's asked about changing gun laws, he turns to the mental health of the alleged perpetrators.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

TRUMP: This is also a mental illness problem. If you look at both...

This is a mental health problem at the highest level.

He was a demented, sick individual. The wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain.

He is a very sick puppy. He was a very, very sick guy.

KEITH: Yesterday, that meant talking about red flag laws to temporarily take weapons from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.

KEITH: A year and a half ago after the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump gathered members of Congress from both parties at the White House and talked about these same ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I think they should've taken them away anyway, whether they had the right or not. But I'll tell you this. You have to have very strong provisions for the mentally ill. Now, a lot of people are saying, oh, I shouldn't be saying that. I'll tell you what. I don't want mentally ill people to be having guns.

KEITH: About a dozen states have passed red flag laws since Parkland, but there has been no federal action. In that same meeting, Trump endorsed closing loopholes in background check requirements for gun purchases, implying that if it meant bucking the National Rifle Association, then so be it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I'm not into popularity. I'm into getting something done that's good. I don't want to just get it done. We've got to get something good that's done. Let's do it properly.

KEITH: Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told the president what he was calling for would only be possible if he was willing to take on the gun lobby.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS MURPHY: Mr. President, it's going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this because, right now, the gun lobby would stop it in its tracks.

TRUMP: I like that responsibility, Chris. I really do. I think it's time. It's time that a president stepped up. And we haven't had them - and I'm talking Democrat and Republican presidents - they have not stepped up.

KEITH: It hasn't happened yet.

Robin Lloyd is managing director at Giffords, the gun safety advocacy group formed by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

ROBIN LLOYD: The president has a very clear legacy on this issue, which is one of empty promises. He claims he's going to take action, but there's been no action.

KEITH: Earlier this year, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed two bills to strengthen background checks. The Republican Senate hasn't taken them up.

And White House adviser Kellyanne Conway described Trump's position now this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLYANNE CONWAY: He stands ready to listen to different actions. He tweeted - retweeted today the majority leader's statement that came out late yesterday afternoon about bicameral, bipartisan action. They're taking a look at many different measures.

KEITH: And she pointed out the Trump administration banned bump stocks, a weapon modifier used in the Las Vegas mass shooting. And President Trump has signed a couple of bills, one to require state and federal entities to do a better job of putting information into the background check system and another focused on school safety. Advocates argue this falls far short of what Trump has talked about.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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