Pelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill pressed President Trump on Monday to support tougher gun laws, a move that comes as the president attempts to shift the focus of gun-violence prevention from firearms to mental illness.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) contend that the most effective prescription for reining in shooting deaths is to expand background checks prior to the sale of firearms. A pair of House-passed measures, they argued, would do just that.

"Countless lives have been saved since the passage of background checks legislation," Pelosi said in a statement, referring to the screenings required of licensed gun dealers since 1994. "Tragically, efforts to irresponsibly circumvent the law have emerged, enabled by new technologies and techniques: sales made over the Internet, at gun shows and person-to-person.  

"These evasions must be swiftly and fully corrected."

Pelosi and Schumer are pushing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up the House bills in the wake of a pair of deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio this month. And they want Trump on board as well.

Monday's pushback from the Democratic leaders is in response to Trump's remarks Sunday night, when he blamed the country's "very, very big mental health problem" - not easy access to firearms - as the driving force behind gun violence.

"It's the people that pull the trigger, not the gun that pulls the trigger," Trump said as he prepared to return to Washington from a 10-day stay at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. "I don't want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. I don't want them to forget that because it is. It's a mental health problem."

Pressed whether he would support expanded background checks, Trump was noncommittal.

"Congress is going to be reporting back to me with ideas. And they'll come in from Democrats and Republicans, and I'll look at it very strongly," he said. "But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks, OK?"

Schumer suggested the president is simply giving lip-service to gun reform, while hoping to delay the debate and allow public pressure for congressional action to fade.

"We've seen this movie before: President Trump, feeling public pressure in the immediate aftermath of a horrible shooting, talks about doing something meaningful to address gun violence, but inevitably, he backtracks in response to pressure from the NRA and the hard right," Schumer said, referring to the National Rifle Association, the country's largest gun lobbyist group.

"These retreats from President Trump are not only disappointing but also heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence," he said.

Trump's position on gun-violence prevention has been consistently inconsistent. Before entering politics, he backed tougher gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons. And after several mass shootings during his presidency, he's floated his support for expanded background checks - an idea he promoted again this month immediately following the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

"Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform," he tweeted in the early morning of Aug. 5.

Hours later, however, appearing at the White House, Trump shifted the focus back to mental health concerns, as well as "red-flag" laws, which would empower local authorities to seize firearms from those deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.

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

Congressional Democrats are pushing a pair of bills passed by the House, largely on partisan lines, in February. One would expand the federal background check requirement to encompass unlicensed sellers, like those on the internet. The second would extend the FBI's window for conducting those screenings from three to 10 days. 

Pelosi and Schumer have both pushed McConnell to bring senators back to Washington amid the August recess to take up those bills - an entreaty the Republican leader has rejected as political gamesmanship. Noting the poll-tested support for background checks among voters of all stripes, the Democratic leaders doubled down on that request Monday.

"Once again, I call upon the President to bring Senator McConnell back to Washington to immediately take up House-passed, bipartisan legislation to address this epidemic and to save lives," Pelosi said.