AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Earlier today I wrote a headline titled Trump Backs Off Background Checks, which was true at the time. Unfortunately, the president and his plans for gun control at the moment appear to be a lot like the midwest and the weather; if you don’t like it now, just wait a few hours, and it will change.
President Donald Trump will unveil a series of proposals — including suggested changes to background checks — in the coming weeks, according to the White House, following mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
It remains unclear exactly what Trump will recommend, though, adding little clarity to the president’s confounding remarks on the subject in recent weeks. Trump and his aides on Wednesday would only say that the president will offer ways to close “loopholes” in the background check system, while declining to reveal any details.
Part of the problem for Donald Trump is that he keeps using the language of gun control advocates. Take “loopholes” for example. What is Trump talking about? We don’t know, but we do know what gun control groups mean when they talk about “loopholes.” The “Charleston loophole” is the fact that if the FBI does not come back with a “deny” on a background check for a firearm within three days, a federally licensed firearms retailer can choose to proceed with the sale. Gun control groups want that extended to 30 days, though they’d likely prefer a bill that allows the sale to remain on hold for an indefinite period of time. The “gun show loophole” is a made up term that refers to private sales of firearms at gun shows, and the fact that private sales and transfers on the secondary market don’t require background checks, even at gun shows. “Universal background checks” seek to close the “private sales loophole” that I just mentioned.
Gun owners don’t talk about “loopholes.” Gun control advocates do. And every time the President uses the language of the gun control advocates, the skepticism among his gun owning base grows a little bit larger.
Trump has baffled lawmakers and advocacy groups for weeks with his comments on gun control. At times, the president has appeared to want to expand background checks for gun purchasers, but then at other times has emphasized the country’s “very strong background checks” and stressed the need to focus on mental health treatment.
On Wednesday, Trump and multiple White House aides accused several media outlets of inaccurately reporting that Trump had told gun rights advocates he would not push to expand background checks. They noted that while the president has never expressed support for “universal” background checks, he has also not backed away from a commitment to exploring other changes.
Again, to most gun owners, “expanding background checks” and “closing loopholes” means requiring background checks on more sales of firearms. Addressing gaps in submitting records to the NICS system isn’t really “expanding background checks” or “closing loopholes,” it’s increasing the accuracy of the NICS system itself. Based on the president’s comments, gun owners are right to be wary of what the president plans on proposing.
“There are all types of background checks,” said Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway. “If somebody is disturbed, if someone needs treatment, if someone should not have a firearm because of a criminal background, a felony, mental health issues, we have to make sure those folks do not procure firearms. But we cannot confiscate weapons from Americans who are procuring them and using them legally without due process. The president is not beholden to the [National Rifle Association] or other gun groups. The president is beholden to the Constitution.”
Conway said Trump could propose changes like those he supported last year, when Congress increased penalties on agencies that do not report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
With all respect to Kellyanne Conway, there aren’t “all kinds of background checks.” When it comes to gun sales, there’s the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That’s it. To say “all kinds of transfers” would be more accurate, but gun control groups say that the only way to ensure that someone disturbed, someone who needs treatment, or someone with a criminal record can’t buy a gun is to impose universal background checks on “all kinds of transfers.”
I don’t think any gun owner would object to ensuring that the NICS system is as accurate as possible, but again, the administration seems to be saying two different things here.
Trump said earlier Wednesday that the nation’s background check system is “already strong” but that he has “an appetite” for addressing some deficiencies in the federal process he did not identify.
“We have background checks, but there are loopholes in the background checks. That’s what I spoke to the NRA about yesterday,” he said. “They want to get rid of the loopholes as well as I do. At the same time, I don’t want to take away people’s Second Amendment rights.”
Trump denied the NRA had influenced his stance, responding to reports that the president had taken background check changes off the table following a lengthy phone conversation with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre Tuesday. In recent weeks, Trump has spoken to LaPierre repeatedly, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“I didn’t say anything about that,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We had a great talk with Wayne yesterday. Didn’t say anything about that. We just talked about concepts. Wayne agrees things have to be done also.”
The president isn’t doing himself any favors here. Gun owners grow more skeptical with each vague statement, while gun owners aren’t going to give the president any credit unless he adopts policies that he says he doesn’t support. What’s needed right now is clarity, and without it we’re left to assume that the president’s plans aren’t yet clear even to him, though we can see the general outline will likely include something to do with background checks and some form of red flag legislation, at least as of 8:30 P.M. Eastern on Wednesday, August 21.