In response to the school shooting in Florida President Donald Trump said “it is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference” – and he did not mention the issue of gun control.
Instead, he promised to prioritise school safety and “tackle the difficult issue of mental health”. He did not say the word “gun” or discuss AR-15s, which have repeatedly been used in mass shootings.
It was Mr Trump’s fourth address to the nation after a mass shooting. The President also said in his White House address that his administration was working with local authorities to investigate the attack.
“Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorney generals, where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority,” he said. “We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbours.”
At least 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, about 45 miles north of Miami, were killed after a gunman opened fire on them with an automatic rifle. It was one of the deadliest school shootings on record in the US. Officials said another 14 were seriously injured.
The suspect has been identified as 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, who was arrested after a brief manhunt. Mr Cruz had been expelled for “disciplinary reasons”, while teachers said they had previously been warned that he could pose a danger to the campus.
Earlier in the day, the President also brought up the issue of mental health in a tweet.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Mr Trump wrote. “Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
The incident has again demonstrated the divide on gun policy between the US’s two main political parties, with Republicans mostly only offering condolences to victims’ families while Democrats called for action.
“This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America – this epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting,” said Senator Chris Murphy, who represents the district where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place in 2012 when 26 people were killed.
He added: “It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared to be the one Trump administration official urging Congress to consider possible solutions to gun violence in the wake of the Florida shooting.
“I will say personally, I think the gun violence – it’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I’d urge Congress to look at these issues,” Mr Mnuchin said at an unrelated hearing in the House of Representatives on the White House’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2019.
The Treasury Department later told Politico that Mr Mnuchin was not stating his opinion on whether Congress should consider passing new gun control laws. He was responding specifically to a question from Democratic Representative John Lewis about the availability of funds in the budget to address the issue of gun violence, the department said.
Gun violence has become a regular occurrence at US schools and universities. There has been an average of one school shooting per week since 2014, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a research and advocacy group that lobbies the government for stricter gun control laws.
The group also said there have been 18 school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. In January, a 15-year-old gunman killed two students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.
As they have in the past, Democratic lawmakers responded to the Florida school shooting with calls for expanded background checks. They also want to create a committee to examine gun violence.
Attempts to pass stricter gun laws have gone nowhere in recent years.
“We hope that we will have more than a moment of silence,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Shorty afterwards, House Speaker Paul Ryan gave the same response to the shooting that the top House Democrat had predicted.
“In a few moments when this vote closes we are going to go upstairs and hold a moment of silence for the victims of this shooting,” the Wisconsin Republican said at his weekly press conference.
Like Mr Trump, Mr Ryan also brought up the issue of mental health, saying it is often associated with mass shootings and also appears to be related to Wednesday’s attack.
“We passed legislation on mental health,” he said.
“We passed legislation cleaning up the instant background check system,” he added, placing blame on the Senate for not acting to address loopholes.
When asked if he would be willing to establish a select committee on gun violence, Mr Ryan said: “I think Congress should do its job. We passed mental health legislation two years ago.”
The top Republican said that the law is just being implemented, but added: “The question is, are those laws where they need to be, is it being implemented correctly?”
Former President Barack Obama even made a rare foray into the political fray.
“We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job,” he tweeted. ”And until we can honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep them safe from harm, including long overdue, commonsense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change.”
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