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Trump says gun deaths are a public health emergency but his solutions are ambiguous

Trump retreats on stronger background checks

President Trump said he thinks the prevalence of gun deaths in America constitutes a public health emergency, but has not offered a clear proposal on what he wants to do to address it. 

Mr. Trump, asked on the White House South Lawn on Wednesday if he views the scores of gun deaths each day in America as a public health emergency, responded, "I do, I do. Sure, I do." Public health emergencies allow funds to be released to address a heightened health crisis. But the president then went on to blame mental illness, even though mental health experts deny a connection between mental illness and gun violence. The president has voiced a desire for "meaningful" background checks, although he hasn't specified what that would entail. 

"We're working on background checks, there are things we can do," Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. "But we already have very serious background checks, we have strong background checks. We can close up the gaps we can do things that are very good and things that frankly gun owners want to have done. But we also have to remember the gun doesn't pull the trigger, the person does. And we have great mental illness."

When CBS News pointed out that other countries have similar levels of mental illness and asked how the president can deny the U.S.' simple access to guns, the president went on to blame things like video games. 

"There are many, many things in play," Mr. Trump said. "People are talking about videos. People are talking about lots of different things. But we do have a way of bringing what we already have...we have many, many people that are unable to buy guns right now. Many people are unable to buy guns. We have background checks. But there are loopholes in the background checks. That's what I spoke to the NRA about yesterday: they want to get rid of the loopholes as well as I do." 

"At the same time I don't want to take away people's Second Amendment rights," he continued. "I don't want to take away the Constitution having to do with gun ownership. And you know we can't let that slope go so easy that we're talking about background checks and then all of the sudden, we're talking about let's take everybody's gun away. People need weapons, unfortunately for protection."

The Atlantic reported on Wednesday that Mr. Trump told NRA head Wayne LaPierre universal background checks were off the table. Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday he didn't mention that in his Tuesday conversation with LaPierre. 

"Who ever said universal background checks are on the table?" a senior White House official told CBS News on Tuesday night.

In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted the president's reversal, tweeting, "Americans are again seeing the gun lobby's tight grip on Trump's [White  House]."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring up gun reforms when the Senate returns next month, but it's unclear what appetite there is in Congress for that. 

"Oh I have an appetite for background checks, we're going to be doing background checks," Mr. Trump said Wednesday. "We're working with Democrats, we're working with Republicans. We already have very strong background checks but we're going to be filling in some of the loopholes as we call them at the border."

Paula Reid contributed to this report.

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