Trump seems to backtrack on gun control, warns of 'slippery slope'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE said Tuesday that the United States already has “very strong background checks” for gun purchasers and that officials need to be wary of the prospect of a “slippery slope” where “everything gets taken away.”

Trump’s comments to reporters in the Oval Office provided more evidence that he is backtracking after initially expressing support for enhanced background checks following a pair of mass shootings that killed 31 people earlier this month.

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His comments foretelling a “slippery slope” also closely mirrored the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) long-held argument that even modest gun control regulations would inevitably lead to more stringent ones. 

Trump echoed his own comments earlier this week by claiming that background checks are already strong, though he added a caveat that there are “missing areas” without going into further detail.

“We have very, very strong background checks right now. But we have sort of missing areas and areas that don’t complete the whole circle, and we’re looking at different things,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Tuesday afternoon.

Trump also repeated earlier assertions that shootings are a “mental problem” and floated reopening more mental institutions to solve the issue — something he proposed at a campaign rally in New Hampshire last Thursday.

Trump said he’s having “meaningful” talks with Democrats on possible gun regulations but wouldn’t offer up any details about potential proposals.

“I’m not going to get into that, but we are in very meaningful discussion with the Democrats, and I think the Republicans are very unified. We are very strong on our Second Amendment,” Trump said, labeling Democrats “not strong at all on the Second Amendment.”

Trump said he feared Democrats would give it up altogether.

“They call it the slippery slope, and all of a sudden everything gets taken away. We’re not going to let that happen,” Trump said. 

Following the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month, Trump indicated support for legislation on “meaningful background checks,” saying the issue was not a question of the NRA or political partisanship.

“On background checks, we have tremendous support for really common-sense, sensible, important background checks,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Aug. 9 following the shootings.

However, the president’s remarks over recent days, including those at the Manchester, N.H., rally, signaled a shift. They came after Trump held discussions with lawmakers and spoke with NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre. The NRA has put out public statements opposing background checks and other legislative proposals floated after the shootings.

The Atlantic reported Tuesday that Trump called LaPierre earlier in the day and told him universal background checks were off the table.

LaPierre later confirmed that the two spoke by phone.

"I spoke to the president today. We discussed the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies. @realDonaldTrump is a strong #2A President and supports our Right to Keep and Bear Arms!" LaPierre said in a tweet, referring to the Second Amendment.

Before departing his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., on Sunday, Trump said Congress was working on background checks and “various other things” to address gun violence in bipartisan fashion, and reiterated that it is a mental health issue.

“People don't realize we have very strong background checks right now,” Trump said when asked about his position on background checks.

“If you go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years. So I'll have to see what it is.” 

—Updated at 6:24 p.m.