The House speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday urged Donald Trump to invoke his presidential powers to summon US lawmakers back into session and address gun control legislation.
In a letter to the president, Pelosi characterized the spate of mass shootings – in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio – as a matter of “great urgency” and called on Congress to act.
“This extraordinary moment in our history requires all of us to take extraordinary action to save lives,” Pelosi wrote.
The appeal came as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell denied lawmakers in Washington could accomplish anything by cutting short their annual summer recess. McConnell did, however, call for a bipartisan legislative solution and suggested background checks and so-called red flag laws would “lead the discussion” when congressional business resumes in September.
The debate over the nation’s gun laws has for years remained at an impasse after the Senate failed to expand background checks following the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. But a pair of massacres over the weekend, which left at least 31 dead and more than 50 injured, has renewed the spotlight on America’s gun violence epidemic.
Democrats have renewed calls for universal background checks – a proposal that enjoys support from an overwhelming majority of the American public.
Republicans have meanwhile pushed for red flag laws, which temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals deemed to be an imminent threat to themselves or others. Democrats counter that the bill being championed by Republicans is effectively toothless, because it does not require that states adopt red flag laws but instead incentivizes them to do so.
Donald Trump signaled he was open to both strengthening background checks and adopting some type of red flag legislation. But the president, who has been a staunch ally of the National Rifle Association, insisted in a speech earlier this week that mental illness, not guns, were the problem.
Trump reportedly earned a warning from the NRA this week after expressing his support for expanding background checks. The president has communicated several times with Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s chief executive, who in a statement on Thursday said the group “opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens”.
“The NRA will work in good faith to pursue real solutions to the epidemic of violence in America,” LaPierre said. “But many proposals are nothing more than ‘soundbite solutions’ – which fail to address the root of the problem, confront criminal behavior, or make our communities safer.”
The NRA also went on the offensive in a Thursday tweet storm, dubbing the slaughter in El Paso and Dayton as “evil acts” perpetrated by “unhinged lunatics”.
The push for stricter gun laws similarly intensified in 2018 after a gunman killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The tragedy saw the birth of a grassroots movement led by students, whose March for Our Lives demonstration ranked as one of the biggest youth-led protests since the Vietnam war.
Trump appeared to embrace various gun safety proposals in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But he later acquiesced amid pressure from the NRA and once again took a firm stance against any new gun laws.
Speaking at the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas last year, Trump said: “Your second amendment rights are under siege”.
“But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”