WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said Wednesday that all “mentally stable” Americans should be able to own firearms amid reports he retreated on plans to toughen gun purchase background checks in the wake of a string of mass shootings.
“I want guns in the hands of people that are mentally stable,” Trump told reporters.
“Those people, I want them to be easily able to get a gun. But people who are insane, people who are sick … I don’t want them to be able to get a gun.”
Trump denied media reports that on Tuesday he had promised National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre that he would not press Congress for a law tightening background checks on people seeking to purchase guns.
Several leading media outlets including the Washington Post and The Atlantic quoted White House sources as saying Trump promised LaPierre he would not pressure Congress for a stringent, universal, pre-sale review of all gun buyers.
Public safety and anti-gun groups are demanding Trump close a gaping loophole in federal laws which exempts private sellers of guns online and at gun shows from running background checks on buyers.
Doing so would make it harder for many people to purchase guns, and conceivably help reduce gun violence.
Trump said he had talked to LaPierre, whose organisation has a commanding influence on any legislation to do with guns but denied making a commitment on background checks.
“I didn’t say anything about that,” he told reporters.
“We just talked about concepts,” he said.
“We have a lot of background checks right now. But there are certain weaknesses. We want to fix the weaknesses.”
Trump pointed to the need to have licensed sellers screen buyers for reports of mental illness and suggested so-called “red-flag” laws allowing the temporary removal of guns from people seen as a risk to themselves or others.
“We also have to remember, the gun doesn’t pull the trigger, a person does,” he said.
After a series of mass shootings beginning at the end of July that left scores dead, Trump had expressed provisional support for implementing universal background checks.
The president’s position is crucial, because congressional Republicans, who count on gun rights supporters for votes, cannot move on tougher firearms legislation without his support.
Democrats meanwhile cannot push legislation through Congress without the backing of Republicans, who control the Senate and the White House.
But on Wednesday Trump repeated an NRA argument that legislating any more controls on gun ownership is a “slippery slope” that will eventually undermine the constitution’s second amendment, which gun rights advocates says guarantees absolute, broad rights to purchase and own firearms without government interference.
“I don’t want to take away people’s second amendment rights,” Trump said.
“We’re talking about background checks, and then all of a sudden we’re talking about, let’s take everybody’s gun away. People need weapons, unfortunately, for protection.”
“We have a second amendment and our second amendment will remain strong.”