WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he plans to work with Congress on legislation to require background checks for people wishing to purchase firearms.
“I’m looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important,” the president told reporters outside the White House before leaving on a trip to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, where mass shootings last weekend resulted in 31 deaths.
“I don’t want to put guns into the hands of people with rage or hate,” Trump said, adding that he thinks many of his Republican colleagues agree with Democrats on the need for background checks, an idea polls show is supported by 97 percent of Americans.
In February, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill mandating federal background checks for all gun purchases, including those made online or at gun shows, which are largely unregulated.
But the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has refused to bring the measure to a vote in the upper chamber.
The president also mentioned steps to address mental health as a factor in gun violence.
“It’s a mental problem, and we’re going to be meeting with members of Congress,” he said.
While acknowledging the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the issue, Trump expressed optimism that the efforts now under way would lead to legislation “beyond anything that’s been done so far.”
At the same time, the president cautioned against expectations that Republicans will embrace reinstating the federal ban on sales of assault weapons.
“You have to have a political appetite in Congress, and so far, I have not seen that,” he said. “Making sure that mentally unstable, seriously ill people aren’t carrying guns? I’ve never seen the appetite as strong as it is now. I have not seen it with certain types of weapons.”
Currently, 21 of the 50 US states require background checks of people who buy firearms at gun shops.
But the states lack authority to regulate or monitor sales online or at gun shows.
In a manifesto posted online, the suspect in the El Paso shooting referred to a “Hispanic invasion” of the United States.
Since launching his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump has often described the entry of undocumented immigrants as an invasion, leading critics to cite the suspect’s statement as evidence that the president’s discourse on immigration is having a harmful effect.
When reporters raised the matter on Wednesday, the president replied: “I think my rhetoric brings people together.”
The president said that he was “concerned about the rise of any group of hate.”
“I don’t like it. Whether it’s white supremacy, whether it’s any other kind of supremacy,” Trump said.
“My critics are political people. They’re trying to make points. In many cases, they’re running for president and they’re very low in the polls,” the president said in a thinly veiled swipe at Democratic hopeful and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke.
Trump went on to complain that “nobody ever mentions that” the Dayton shooter, who was killed by police, appears to have been sympathetic to leftist causes and to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are also vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.