Donald Trump has called the two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio “barbaric”, after at least 31 were killed in less than 24 hours over the weekend.
In his first remarks about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the president condemned the evil of white supremacy as authorities said they were investigating an anti-immigrant manifesto tied to the suspect in El Paso. The president also said he had spoken with attorney general William Barr, urging the US Justice Department to implement the death penalty for hate-crime mass-murders.
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” Mr Trump said from the White House. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacism,” he added. The president talked about the “glorification of violence” as he hit out at violent video games “that are now commonplace” and that must be “substantially reduced”. Violence in video games has been a constant line of attack for Republicans since the 1990s.
However, while Mr Trump called for “bipartisan solutions” over the shootings, he did not mention any new restrictions on guns in this speech.
Mr Trump said he wanted legislation providing “strong background checks” for gun users, but he provided scant details, having reneged on previous promises after mass shootings.
“We vow to act with urgent resolve,” Mr Trump said.
The weekend shootings left dozens dead and more than 50 wounded. The president suggested hours earlier on Twitter that a background check bill could be paired with his long-sought effort to toughen the nation’s immigration system, but offered no details. That drew a sharp rebuke from a number Democrats.
“What’s [the] connection between background checks and immigration reform? That we have to keep guns out of the hands out of the invading hordes?” the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, said in an interview with MSNBC. “That’s disgusting. It reminds me of the 1930s in Germany.”
Both shooting suspects were US citizens, and federal officials are investigating anti-immigrant bias as a potential motive for the El Paso, Texas, massacre.
Mr Trump has frequently sought to tie his immigration priorities – a border wall and transforming the legal immigration system to one that prioritises merit over familial ties – to legislation around which he perceives momentum to be building.
In El Paso, where the death toll has risen to 22, there was condemnation for the president’s proposals.
Equating immigration and background checks had no logic, said Heliana Ramirez, 42, who visits El Paso frequently from San Francisco to volunteer with community groups
“The president is fomenting hate,” she said. “Often the president will say something and you have to watch what his other hand is doing. I fear that with all these people stockpiling weapons we’re going to have a civil war.”
“I think he may have a point about looking at mental health. I think we do have a lot of problems.”
Hillary Chan, 25, a volunteer from Oakland, said the president’s plan did “not make much sense”.
“It was not an immigrant who shot up Walmart. It was someone with deep seated racism,” she said.
“Racism is a learned thing. You are not born racist,” she added.
Nicolas Palazzo, a lawyer with the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Centre, said it was very interesting to him that a white supremacist came here and shot dozens of people in an act of hate.
“It’s a false equation trying to tie this to immigration.”
He also said he doubted the president would pass any meaningful gun reform as the NRA “would not allow him”. He said: “Right now we’re seeing a lot of policies from Republicans that are deeply dangerous.”
The president also received criticism after mistakenly referring to Toledo, instead of Dayton as the location for one of the mass shootings.
“May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo, may God protect them. May God protect all of those from Texas to Ohio. May God bless the victims and their families,” the president said said.
Over the weekend, Mr Trump tried to assure Americans he was dealing with the issue of gun violence and defended his administration in light of criticism following the latest in a string of mass shootings.
“We have done much more than most administrations,” he said, without elaboration. “We have done actually a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.”
Congress has proven unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation this session, despite the frequency of mass shootings, in large part because of resistance from Republicans, particularly in the Republican-controlled Senate. That political dynamic seems difficult to change and Mr Trump himself has reneged on previous pledges to strengthen gun laws.
Additional reporting by AP
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