WASHINGTON — Great news! President Donald Trump will go down in history as the president who got gun control done.

Trump disclosed Friday that he now supports background checks for gun purchases. He acknowledged that past efforts to get such measures through Congress haven't fared well.

But: "There's never been a president like President Trump."

Which is true! Just take a look at his unique record on gun control.

Just four days before his vow to deliver background checks, he neglected to mention them in his address to the nation on the massacres in El Paso and Dayton. He blamed hatred, mental illness and video games instead.

Earlier that day, in a tweet, he did mention background checks but said Congress should package any action with immigration reform (another easy one).

In February, the House passed a bill calling for expanded background checks. It was the first serious congressional action on reform in a quarter-century — maybe proving that "there's never been a president like President Trump"?

Alas, no. Trump opposed the measure. He threatened to veto it if it made it through the Senate.

"Allowing the Federal Government to restrict firearms purchases through bureaucratic delay would undermine the Second Amendment's guarantee that law-abiding citizens have an individual right to keep and bear arms," a White House memo explained.

But wait! Just one year before that memo, Trump was for background checks.

On Feb. 22, 2018, after a gunman killed 17 people at Parkland, Fla., high school, Trump met at the White House with students, parents and teachers from the school.

"And I just want to say before we really begin — because I want to hear your input — we're going to be very strong on background checks," Trump assured. "We're going to be doing very strong background checks. Very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody. And we are going to do plenty of other things."

Just a few days later, he underlined his fierce determination during a meeting with members of Congress. He taunted the legislators for being "petrified" of the National Rifle Association and boasted, "They have less power over me. I don't need it. What do I need?"

He was indignant that "nothing has been done for all these years."

He offered an explanation for the years of inaction: There had never been a president like President Trump. "It's time that a president stepped up, and we haven't had them. And I'm talking Democrat and Republican presidents — they have not stepped up."

And he laid out his prescription: "We have to keep the guns out of the hands of those that pose the threat. And this really includes background checks. … And they have to be strong."

He instructed members of Congress to include "big, big penalties. Strong penalties."

And just to make sure they understood, he repeated his unyielding conviction: "But you have to be very, very powerful on background checks; don't be shy. … I really believe it has to be very strong. I'd rather have you come down on the strong side instead of the weak side. The weak side would be much easier. I'd rather have you come up with a strong, strong bill. And really strong on background checks."

Then NRA officials met privately with Trump. And when the White House released its gun plan the following month, its most notable provision was … weapons training for schoolteachers. No background checks. Not strong ones. Not weak ones. None.

By May, when Trump addressed the NRA's annual convention in Dallas, he was safely back on his leash.

"Your Second Amendment rights are under siege," Trump warned, and promised: "But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I'm your president."

Trump has signed one gun-control bill. He did so just two months after he took office. The effect of the bill was to roll back an Obama-signed measure that would have added a layer of review before certain people with mental illnesses could obtain guns.

Two years later, in that same enthusiastic meeting with lawmakers, Trump was vowing "very decisive" measures to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses — to do what, essentially, the bill he signed undid.

"You have to have very strong provisions for the mentally ill," Trump said, and then again touted his own courage: "Now, a lot of people are saying, oh, I shouldn't be saying that. I'll tell you what — I don't want mentally ill people to be having guns."

He's right. There's never been a president like President.

 

Hiatt is the Washington Post editorial page editor.