If one were truly honest about their inner suspicions, one could consider Donald Trump’s sudden reversal of his position on the imperative to close the loopholes in background checks for gun purchases — a position that he initially took in the immediate wake of the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton recently — as an expression of his complete disregard for the lives of anyone but himself.
A new article in The Atlantic, however, tells the real behind-the-scenes story of Trump’s disgraceful walk-back of the one glimmer of hope to emerge from the massacre — the potential that long-stalled gun reform legislation already passed by the House of Representatives could finally be passed in the Senate.
Certainly, proponents of gun reform were excited when Trump announced that “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks” and assured the country that he would get the Senate’s legislative “grim reaper” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on board.
Yet, as The Atlantic reports — based on conversations with former senior White House officials with knowledge of White House-insider discussions, all of whom insisted on anonymity — Trump couldn’t even overcome the opposition of NRA CEO Wayne “buy me a mansion” LaPierre before caving in ignominiously.
According to the article, the conversation went something like this when Trump called the expensive Italian-suited NRA leader on August 7th:
“’It’s going to be great, Wayne,’ Trump said, according to both a former senior White House official and an NRA official briefed on the call. ‘They will love us.’ And if they—meaning the roughly 5 million people who make up the NRA’s active membership, and some of Trump’s electoral base—didn’t, Trump reportedly assured LaPierre, ‘I’ll give you cover.’”
“’Wayne’s listening to that and thinking, Uh, no, Mr. President, we give you cover,’ the former senior White House official said in describing the conversation. The president reportedly asked LaPierre whether the NRA was willing to give in at all on background checks. LaPierre’s response, the sources said, was unequivocal: ‘No.’ With that, ‘the Rose Garden fantasy,’ as the NRA official described it to me, was scrapped as quickly as it had been dreamed up.”
The Atlantic asserts that Trump reiterated his slavish obedience to the gun manufacturers’ lobby — and their copious campaign contributions — in another call with La Pierre this afternoon, confirming, according to someone briefed on the call, that universal background checks were no longer on the table.
“He was cementing his stance that we already have background checks and that he’s not waffling on this anymore,” the source said. “He doesn’t want to pursue it.”
Instead, Trump said he wanted to concentrate now on “increasing funding” for mental-health care and using his compliant Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr to start prosecuting “gun crime” through federal firearms charges.
Trump’s immediate folding of the strongest hand that an American president has ever had in confronting the NRA’s intransigent insistence on being able to sell as many guns as possible to whomever they want was inexplicable given that the organization is at its weakest point in recent history, beset by infighting, board resignations, lawsuits, financial scandals, and declining membership dues.
According to The Atlantic article, Trump’s eventual cave-in to the NRA’s demands was never in doubt. “Trump always knew where he had to end up,” a Republican operative told the magazine.
The efforts of the NRA to overwhelm both the White House and GOP congressional supporters with calls several times a day helped cement the decision to oppose the will of the majority of the nation’s citizens in favor of the representatives of the merchants of death.
Part of the NRA’s sales pitch to kill enthusiasm for gun reform consisted of “walking Trump through nearly 40 mass shootings in which the gunmen obtained their firearms legally.
While to a sane person, that would indicate a need for even more restrictions on firearms sales rather than less, the president bought it hook, line, and sinker and began mouthing NRA talking points about mental illness as the primary problem causing gun violence at his next rally.
While now, the NRA still worries that the notoriously fickle Trump will change his mind again once Congress is back in session — after a recess in which many of its members were lambasted by their constituents for their inaction in combatting America’s gun problem — an NRA spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, told The Atlantic that Trump will pay a price if he flip flops once again.
To those who know our members and understand the issue, they realize that if they support any ban, registration scheme, or other draconian gun-control measures, our members will demand accountability,” he said. “And our members have long memories.”
Unfortunately for the NRA, the family and friends of the victims of mass shootings also have long memories, as do the vast majority of Americans who are loudly demanding that Congress “Do something!” as they have shouted at town hall meetings across the country.
Until the lure of NRA cash is outweighed by the outrage of a public determined to vote out Congress members too afraid to enact the laws they are insisting upon, don’t expect Trump and his Republican cronies to lift a finger to advance a reasonable agenda of gun regulations.
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Original reporting by Elaina Plott at The Atlantic.