Trump navigates gun politics as he consoles Las Vegas survivors

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar – RTSJ4CL

President Donald Trump will engage in one of the sad rituals of the modern presidency on Wednesday in Las Vegas: consoling survivors of a gunman’s rampage and confronting recurring questions of whether restrictions on firearms can prevent another tragedy.

While the president said Tuesday he was looking forward to “paying our respects and condolences,” he and most other Republicans in Washington gave no sign of being ready to address the subject of gun control.

“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on,” Trump said as he departed the White House to view hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that “it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions.”

Trump is heading to Las Vegas in the aftermath of the massacre in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 people were injured by a man who used an arsenal of rifles in a rapid-fire attack on a country music festival along the city’s entertainment strip.

The gunman, identified by police as Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree, apparently killed himself as a SWAT team converged on his perch inside a 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The size and lethality of Paddock’s arsenal — 42 rifles and handguns, including some reportedly modified to fire like a fully automatic weapon — has reignited the debate over whether the U.S. needs to restrict gun ownership.

A majority of Americans favor some restrictions on gun sales, including expanded background checks, banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and creating a federal database to track purchases, according to a survey conducted last spring by the Pew Research Center.

But Republicans in Congress have moved to relax gun laws in recent years rather than tighten them. After House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June, Republicans said it didn’t show new gun laws were needed. Some suggested lawmakers should arm themselves instead.

One small impact of Sunday night’s massacre: A bill that would ease the purchase of silencers was temporarily shelved in the House after the Las Vegas shooting. Critics say the devices, which muffle the sound of gunshots, could make mass shootings even deadlier.

But there was at least a small crack in the otherwise solid Republican wall of opposition to gun control. John Thune, the party’s third ranking member in the Senate, suggested that Congress might consider legislation to restrict devices, available at gun shops and some sporting goods stores, that allow a semi-automatic rifle to mimic the rapid-fire of an automatic weapon.

The New York Times and other news organizations reported that at least one of the weapons Paddock used was equipped with such a device, known as a bump stock.

Thune, of South Dakota, said that “to turn semiautomatic weapons into virtually automatic weapons, you know, that’s something I think we’ll take a look at.”

He said lawmakers first need to know more details about the weapons used in Las Vegas and how the gunman obtained them.

The shooting prompted Caleb Keeter, one of the musicians who played at the music festival earlier on the day of the shooting, to change his mind on gun control.

“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” Keeter, a guitarist in the Josh Abbott Band, wrote in a post on Twitter. “We need gun control RIGHT. NOW.”

Democrats in Congress and gun control advocates said symbolic statements and actions are insufficient to solve the problem. They are using the shooting to make a renewed push for legislation requiring broader background checks for gun buyers and other restrictions on firearms.

“How did this monster acquire the arsenal he used to rain down death on a crowd of innocents?” Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “We’ll have to reckon with the fact that this man was able to assemble an arsenal of military-grade weapons.”

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest lobby for gun owners and manufacturers, has opposed tougher background checks, limits on semi-automatic weapons and other firearm restrictions. Former President Barack Obama advocated such measures after 20 children and six adults were gunned down inside an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. But the legislation failed.

The NRA spent more than $50 million to boost Trump and other Republicans during the 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump, who was endorsed by the NRA, has pledged to be a stalwart supporter of gun owners during his presidency.

“The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” Trump said in an April address to the NRA’s annual convention in Atlanta. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”

Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told Axios that any move by Trump to soften his campaign stance on gun rights “will be the end of everything.” The voters who backed him feel more strongly about the issue than any other, Bannon said via text, according to Axios.

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