Trump Calls for Gun Control, Immigration Deal in Wake of Attacks

Senators Toomey, Manchin say he reached out to talk about universal background check bill

A chaplain (R) from a motorcycle group prays at a makeshift memorial after the shooting that left 21 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall WalMart in El Paso, Texas / Getty Images
August 5, 2019

President Trump tweeted Monday morning he wants Congress to pass a deal combining gun control and immigration reform after two mass shootings over the weekend.

"We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain," Trump tweeted. "Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!"

Senators Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who have cosponsored legislation to expand background checks to cover sales between private parties on the used market, said Trump reached out to express his desire to work with them on the issue.

"This morning, we both separately discussed with President Trump our support for passing our bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and terrorists while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners and all Americans," the two said in a statement, according to the Hill. "The president showed a willingness to work with us on the issue of strengthening background checks."

Police officials in California, Texas, and Ohio said all of the attackers in the recent mass shootings passed background checks while obtaining their firearms. Toomey and Manchin's background check bill, for which Trump has now signaled support, would not have prevented those shooters from obtaining guns.

The White House and the National Rifle Association did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the president's proposal. Multiple sources on Capitol Hill said there was no news of a concrete plan based on Trump's tweets but that could change as reactions to the attacks unfold.

"Too early to say," one staffer said. "My gut says that it's a fleeting proposal with no flesh on the bones and no details. Democrats will run hard with his call for more background checks, though."

President Trump did not mention the universal background check and immigration proposal during his speech later in the day.

"We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless," he said. "We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people. Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided. We must seek real bipartisan solutions. We have to do that in a bipartisan manner that will truly make America safer and better for all."

Instead, the president focused on mental health, combating the racist ideology that inspired the El Paso shooting, red flag laws, and violent video games.

"First, we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs," Trump said. "I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partnership with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as social media companies to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike. As an example, the monster in the Parkland high school [had] red flags against him, and yet nobody took decisive action. Nobody did anything. Why not?"

"Second," he continued, "we must stop the glorifying violence in our society. This includes the gruesome video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately. Cultural change is hard, but each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. That's what we have to do. Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but when necessary, involuntary confinement."

Ultimately, the president identified mental illness and hatred as the cause of the violence.

"Mental illness and hatred pulled the trigger, not the gun," he said.

The NRA released a statement approving of Trump's comments on keeping guns away from the dangerously mentally ill.

"The NRA welcomes the president's call to address the root causes of the horrific acts of violence that have occurred in our country," the gun-rights group said. "It has been the NRA's long-standing position that those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment."