President Donald Trump on Friday said he had “tremendous support” for possible new measures to tighten background checks on gun buyers, claiming that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a traditional opponent of such laws, was “totally on board.”
The president's comments marked the latest sign that gun control measures — or at least, the discussion of the legislation — had fresh momentum following the most recent round of horrific mass shootings.
“On background checks, we have tremendous support for really common sense, sensible, important background checks,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.
He said he’d spoken recently with “the people" at the National Rifle Association, which has aggressively fought all proposed gun control legislation in recent years, as well as with McConnell and several other senators who have been “hard-line” on gun rights.
“I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He's totally on board, he said ‘I've been waiting for your call,’” Trump said. “I spoke to senators that in some cases, friends of mine, but pretty hard-line senators ... hard-line on the Second Amendment.”
“And they understand, we don't want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people, we don't want guns in the hands of the wrong people,” Trump said.
Trump, however, said he didn't feel there was any reason to have Congress end its summer recess early to deal with the issue.
"By the time you call them back they're going to be back anyway," he said. "I don't think we'll need to call them back. I think we'll have a very good package by the time they come back and they can start debating and voting on it then."
During more than 30 minutes of comments, Trump nevertheless predicted that Republicans would “lead the charge, along with the Democrats” in attempting to get a package of gun control bills passed.
"We have to have meaningful background checks," he said. "I really believe that the NRA, I’ve spoken to them numerous times ... I really think they’re gonna get there also."
Hours earlier, Trump had tweeted that "serious" talks were in progress among top congressional lawmakers on background check measures.
"Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people. I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country," he wrote.
His deluge of comments come just days after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, California, that left dozens dead and that have reignited the debate over gun laws in the United States.
The comments, however, prompted some modest pushback from McConnell's office, with an aide for the Kentucky Republican telling NBC News that the senator has not endorsed any specific gun legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, criticized Trump for leaving a seat at the table for the NRA.
If the president "needs the NRA's sign off for background checks legislation, it will be nearly impossible to accomplish anything meaningful to address gun violence," Schumer tweeted. He also demanded that McConnell schedule a vote on background checks legislation.
While Trump has spoken of tightening background checks following previous mass shootings — only to later abandon those efforts — there are modest signs things could be different this time.
On Thursday, McConnell said a law expanding background checks and "red flags" would be on the table after the Senate returns from its August recess.
"Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass," the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and a so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or to others.
"But what we can't do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that's unacceptable," McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.
McConnell has fiercely opposed gun restrictions throughout his 35-year Senate career, consistently resisting calls for gun control measures after massacres and reaping the benefits of a close relationship with the NRA, which has already begun to fight the new push for gun control.
More than 200 House Democrats wrote a letter to McConnell earlier this week urging him to end the August recess and pass stricter gun control legislation. The Democratic-controlled House passed two background check measures in February.