But the prospect
of a Rose Garden ceremony, his daughter thought, where Trump could sign a document and call it “historic” and “unprecedented”—and receive positive media attention—might be the best chance of yielding real change.
For a moment, it looked like it just might work. “He loved it. He was all spun up about it,” said a former senior White House official who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke with me on the condition of anonymity in order to share private conversations. On August 7, the president picked up the phone to discuss the idea with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association. “It’s going to be great, Wayne,” Trump said, according to both a former senior White House official and an NRA official briefed on the call. “They will love us.” And if they—meaning the roughly 5 million people who make up the NRA’s active membership, and some of Trump’s electoral base—didn’t, Trump reportedly assured LaPierre, “I’ll give you cover.” (The White House did not return a request for comment for this story.)
“Wayne’s listening to that and thinking, Uh, no, Mr. President, we give you cover,” the former senior White House official said in describing the conversation. The president reportedly asked LaPierre whether the NRA was willing to give in at all on background checks. LaPierre’s response, the sources said, was unequivocal: “No.” With that, “the Rose Garden fantasy,” as the NRA official described it to me, was scrapped as quickly as it had been dreamed up.
Earlier this afternoon, according to a person briefed on the call, the president told LaPierre in another phone call that universal background checks were off the table. “He was cementing his stance that we already have background checks and that he’s not waffling on this anymore,” the source told me. “He doesn’t want to pursue it.” In the call, the source added, Trump said he wanted to focus now on “increasing funding” for mental-health care and directing attorneys general across the country to start prosecuting “gun crime” through federal firearms charges from the Justice Department.