President Trump said Tuesday that his administration will weigh gun laws in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, a move that advisers say would shock and disappoint core supporters like no other action of his presidency.
Mr. Trump was asked by reporters if the mass shooting at an outdoor concert that left at least 59 dead, plus the gunman, and nearly 530 injured — the worst in modern U.S. history — would prompt him to consider gun control legislation.
“We have a tragedy,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
Pressed by reporters later Tuesday, the president said of engaging in a gun control debate, “At some point, perhaps that will come. But that’s not for now; that’s for a later time.”
Asked whether he believed the gunman should have been allowed to own the high-powered arsenal, Mr. Trump said, “We’ll talk about that on a later date.”
As the president prepared to visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, investigators revealed that gunman Stephen Paddock wired $100,000 last week to an account in his girlfriend’s home country of the Philippines. They also said the 64-year-old retired accountant had doubled down on his expensive gambling habit in the weeks prior to the shooting.
Gun control advocates seized on reports that Paddock had modified many of his assault-style rifles with a relatively inexpensive “bump stock” that allows the weapon to be fired at a much more rapid rate, essentially turning it into an automatic weapon. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent in Charge Jill Schneider told reporters Tuesday evening that such devices were attached to 12 of his weapons — far more than initially thought.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said the modification allows the shooter to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute and that Paddock “appears to have modified at least one of his weapons in this way.” She said she is looking at ways “to finally close this loophole.”
“This is the least we should do in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history,” she said. “It should be our highest priority.”
Other Democrats had more ideas Tuesday, touting plans for legislation not tied to any known facts about the Las Vegas gunman or his actions.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said he will introduce a bill requiring that federal background checks be completed and potential purchasers cleared as legitimate before a gun can be purchased. Under current law, a seller can proceed with a gun sale if there is no disapproval within 72 hours.
“I will introduce a measure to close the loophole that lets a buyer walk away with a gun if the background check is not complete in 72 hrs,” Mr. Blumenthal wrote on Twitter.
FBI data for 2014, cited by The Hill, said more than 2,500 prohibited people were able to buy guns that year under the practice, called “default to proceed.”
It wasn’t clear what gun laws Mr. Trump, who as a candidate was a stalwart defender of Second Amendment rights, has in mind. White House aides didn’t elaborate on the president’s plans.
But people close to Mr. Trump said any step by the White House toward gun control would alienate the president from his base permanently.
“Impossible,” said former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who told Axios that such a move would “be the end of everything.”
Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone predicted, “Base would go insane and he knows it.”
Mr. Bannon said a gun control proposal from this White House would anger Trump supporters even more than the president’s pledge to accept amnesty for young illegal immigrants, a tentative deal he made with congressional Democratic leaders last month.
Mr. Trump was so outspoken in favor of Second Amendment rights during the campaign last year that some observers close to the issue speculated he might have been referring Tuesday to a renewed push for a nationwide “conceal carry reciprocity” law, which would allow a gun owner with a conceal-carry permit in one state to enjoy the same privileges in all states.
There is typically enormous media pressure on a president after a mass shooting in the U.S. to call for stricter gun control measures. In the 48 hours after the Las Vegas massacre, White House aides have been saying it’s not the appropriate time to discuss gun laws while families are suffering the raw emotions of loss and many gunshot victims are still recovering in hospitals. Mr. Trump’s talk-about-it-later response could have been simply a way of brushing aside a question he didn’t want to answer at that moment.
When reporters also asked the president Tuesday about proposed legislation to loosen restrictions on gun silencers, a move opposed by gun control groups, Mr. Trump replied, “We’ll talk about that later.”
The National Rifle Association declined to comment Tuesday on any legislative response to the Las Vegas shooting.
With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the chances of Congress approving stricter gun regulations is virtually nonexistent.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, while renewing a call for action, cited a series of mass shootings that failed to prompt lawmakers to enact anything, including the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 and the Orlando nightclub attack last year.
“We need leadership now, and we must continue to demand it until our lawmakers either hear us — or we have new lawmakers,” Mr. Griffin said.
Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, on his show Monday for failing to enact tougher gun laws.
“They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country,” he said.
Some gun rights advocates in Congress, such as Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said it’s too early in the investigation to draw conclusions about what might have prevented the massacre.
“I don’t think we have confirmation, yet, of the kinds of weapons that were used, and where he obtained them, and under the circumstances that he obtained them,” Mr. Cotton said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “So I think we have to gather all those facts before we make any conclusions.”
The death toll in Las Vegas could rise. At least 45 people who were wounded by Paddock remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday.
Police in Nevada said Paddock had at least 42 firearms in his hotel room and in his home in Mesquite, plus thousands of rounds of ammunition and a chemical compound that can be used for explosives. Mr. Trump called him “a demented man,” but there are no early indications that he sought treatment for a mental illness.
The gunman did not have a criminal record, which would have prevented him from purchasing a firearm.
Paddock wired $100,000 last week to an account in the Philippines, home country of his live-in girlfriend, Marilou Danley, according to a report Tuesday by NBC News. Police were poring over casino surveillance footage for clues about the couple’s behavior.
Ms. Danley was visiting the Philippines while Paddock carried out the slaughter Sunday night from a hotel room high above the Las Vegas Strip.
Paddock, a known high-stakes gambler, also conducted at least 16 casino transactions of more than $10,000 in the weeks before the shooting, NBC reported.
Authorities want to question Ms. Danley when she returns to the U.S., but they have said they don’t know if the $100,000 was intended for her. Investigators do not believe she was involved in the shooting.
Paddock also reportedly set up a video camera in his hotel room to film himself during the rampage and also wired cameras in the hallway leading to his room so he could see when police were getting close.
Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said Paddock rigged the camera on a food service cart in the hallway. The gunman also shot at a hotel security guard.
Sheriff Lombardo said the shooting rampage lasted nine minutes, and he called Ms. Danley a “person of interest” in the investigation.
⦁ Sally Persons contributed to this report.