WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure to take action on gun safety in the wake of two weekend massacres, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, expressed a new willingness Thursday to consider a measure expanding background checks for all gun purchasers, saying it will be “front and center” in a coming Senate debate on how to respond to gun violence.
“There is a lot of support for that,” he said.
Mr. McConnell, who has strongly opposed background checks in the past, made his remarks in an interview with a Kentucky radio host, Terry Meiners of WHAS in Louisville. While he did not support a bill requiring background checks, his remarks appeared to underscore the possibility of a shift in the politics of Washington’s divisive gun debate.
Mr. McConnell has refused to take up a background checks bill passed by the House because President Trump has threatened to veto it. But Mr. Trump appears increasingly open to the idea and said recently there is “great appetite for it.” Mr. McConnell told Mr. Meiners that he had spoken with Mr. Trump and said the president was “very much open to this discussion.”
In the interview, Mr. McConnell said a background checks bill would likely be considered along with legislation creating incentives for states to adopt so-called red flag laws, which authorize courts to issue special protective orders to take away firearms from those deemed dangerous. He also said he expects discussion of an assault weapons ban, which is favored by Democrats but highly unlikely to pass in a Republican-controlled Senate.
“I think the urgency of this is not lost on any of us, because we’ve seen too many of these horrendous acts,” he said.
But Mr. McConnell said he did not intend to bring the Senate back into session from its August recess, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked again on Thursday that he do. He said he wanted Senate staff members to work on gun safety legislation so the chamber could take something up when it returns in September.
In a statement issued just after Mr. McConnell spoke, the leader of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, said his group “opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
He did not specifically say whether that included red flag laws and background checks. But the group has opposed such measures in the past, and Mr. LaPierre said that “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.”