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McConnell to consider gun background checks in fall

AP, WASHINGTON

Shifting the gun violence debate, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said that wants to consider background checks and other bills, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return in the fall.

The Republican leader would not be calling senators back to work early, as some have demanded.

However, he told a Kentucky radio station that US President Donald Trump on Thursday morning called him and they talked about several ideas.

The president is “anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” McConnell said.

Stakes are high for all sides, but particularly for Trump and his party. Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks — a bill passed by the Democratic-led US House of Representatives is stalled in the US Senate — but they face enormous pressure to do something after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which killed 31 people.

McConnell, who is facing protests outside his home in Louisville, Kentucky, could shift attention back to Democrats by showing a willingness to engage ahead of next year’s elections.

McConnell said that he and Trump discussed various ideas on the call, including background checks and the so-called “red flag” laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

“Background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion,” McConnell told WHAS-AM in Louisville, adding that “there’s a lot of support” publicly for background checks.

“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,” he said.

Trump has been interested in federal background checks before — and on Monday tweeted about them — only to drop the issue later, a turnaround similar to his reversal on gun proposals after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last year.

The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies on Capitol Hill have long wielded influence, but the gun lobby’s grip on Democrats started slipping some time ago and it was unclear how much sway the NRA and other gun groups still hold over Republicans in the Trump era.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Trump on Thursday assured them in telephone calls that he would review the House-passed bill that expands federal background checks for firearm sales.

In a joint statement, they said that Trump called them individually after Pelosi sent a letter asking the president to order the Senate back to Washington immediately to consider gun violence measures.

Schumer and Pelosi said they told Trump that the best way to address gun violence is for the Senate to take up and pass the House bill.

Trump “understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives,” they added.

The politics of gun control are shifting amid the frequency and toll of mass shootings. Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control measures — mostly Democrats — surged in last year’s midterms, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre on Thursday said in rare public statement that some federal gun control proposals “would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

Proposals being discussed in the US Congress would not have prevented the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, the organization said.

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