Facebook ads underscore Trump's mixed messages on guns

President Donald Trump talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that he wanted to move quickly on gun violence legislation, but his new push came just days after posting an ad on his official Facebook page that defended the Second Amendment and warned that Democrats were looking to seize Americans' firearms.

Under growing pressure to deliver some form of gun control package following mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Trump told reporters in the White House, "I would like to see it happen soon."

"We're going to do what's right," he said, claiming have the support of his close ally, the National Rifle Association. "The NRA wants to do what's right too."

That message offered a stark contrast with the ads, which warned a specific group of voters that Democrats were looking to infringe upon gun rights and urged them to sign a petition that pledged to defend the right to own firearms. It also provided a fresh example of the president's efforts to appease the American public and his political base at the same time, often with contradictory appeals.

"Democrats have finally admitted what they truly want: a repeal of the Second Amendment," read one version of the ad, which posted two days after a shooting in Texas on Saturday left seven dead and 22 wounded. "It's up to the American people to stand strong and defend our freedoms."

The ads were paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint national fundraising committee run by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. They were aimed at users across the country but appeared to be focused on battleground states, like Michigan and Ohio, and Democratic-leaning states with numerous gun owners, like Washington and Oregon. Another was aimed at men age 45-54 in Louisiana.

The ads' targets were first reported by The Washington Post.

The Trump campaign has spent millions of dollars on Facebook in recent months, including about $5 million since the start of June. It did not respond to a request about the timing of the ads and whether they were specifically tied to fresh calls for gun control after the shooting in West Texas.

The president has offered scattershot signals about guns since a pair of mass shootings in early August, one in Dayton, Ohio, the other in El Paso, Texas.

In the days after the shootings, which happened within 24 hours of each other, Trump signaled he was open to proposals for new background checks, saying "there is a great appetite" for such measures. But within days, following a call with NRA president Wayne LaPierre, Trump abruptly changed his tone and said background checks would not have helped.

Trump's comments were reminiscent of his wavering last year, when he vowed to support background checks in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, only to relent after receiving pressure from the NRA.

This time there seems to be more sustained momentum to produce some sort of measure after Trump asked aides to pull together a comprehensive list of ideas. White House officials have been meeting with lawmakers and congressional staff as they try to formulate a plan Trump can support without risking fallout from his political base.

LaPierre has repeatedly spoken to Trump and warned him about losing support from NRA members. But White House aides contend the president's base would stick with him regardless. They point to strong support for background checks among Republicans and gun owners and believe they can fashion a proposal that the gun lobby — while not supporting — may not vehemently oppose.

Among the proposals being considered: red flag laws, more money for mental health and making sure juvenile information gets into existing background checks. Additionally, White House aides have said Attorney General William Barr is drafting legislation to speed up the death penalty for mass shooters.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

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