Trump opts against call for gun-control bill after Dayton and El Paso shootings

‘Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,’ POTUS says

President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands nearby on August 5. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands nearby on August 5. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Posted August 5, 2019 at 11:20am

Criticized for sometimes appearing to side with white supremacist groups, President Donald Trump on Monday said such ideologies “devour the soul” as he opted against calling on Congress to pass gun-control legislation following two more mass shootings.

The president was under pressure to speak out against white nationalists after the suspected gunman in a Saturday El Paso shooting that left 20 people dead posted a racist manifesto before his killing spree. The document echoed Trump’s talk about an “invasion” of the United States by undocumented migrants from Central and South America.

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“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” he said. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

“Hate has no place in America. Hatred wraps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul,” Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence while speaking in front of a portrait of former President George Washington in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.

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Trump used words and phrases like “evil” and “wicked man” and “twisted monster” to describe the two shooters, noting among the dead and wounded are “precious little children.” And he said the entire country is “overcome with shock and horror.”

Though the White House has yet to confirm, Federal Aviation Administration travel restriction notices posted Monday indicate Trump will visit both cities on Wednesday. The notices state a “VIP Movement” is planned in both locations, terminology often used when Air Force One is traveling to a specific city.

Trump used his first formal remarks since the two killing sprees Monday to call for changes in federal laws so authorities are better able to identify troubled individuals who show signs of planning mass shootings.

Trump announced the Justice Department will send Congress proposed legislation that would mandate mass shooters be given the death penalty. He called for DOJ and other entities to work with social media companies to identify users who might become mass killers, and again called for lawmakers to pass “red-flag laws” with the same goal.

But, notably, after the Dayton and El Paso shootings he did not propose any new gun-control plans or endorse any existing legislation.

In fact, this key quote signaled the president who spends ample time trying to please his Second Amendment-embracing conservative base has no plans to do so any time soon: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

He did not mention any steps that could be taken via legislation or executive action to overhaul the federal background check process to make it harder for some individuals with trouble signs to legally purchase a firearm. And he did not so much as suggest he would sign any existing background-check overhaul bill.

The Democratic-controlled House in February passed a measure that would require firearms dealers to wait 10 days to get a response from a federal background check system before completing the sale of a gun. (Under existing law, they are not required to wait more than three days.)

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has blocked that and other gun-control legislation from coming to the floor for debate, amendments and votes.

Some leading Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, had called for the president to ask the Kentucky Republican recovering from a fractured shoulder he suffered in a weekend fall, to call the Senate back into session to vote on the House bill. McConnell, however, has not and Trump gave no indication Monday that he wants that bill on his desk.

The president has often appeared rigid playing the role of consoler in chief even as he has delivered messages similar to what his immediate predecessors did following mass murders and other crises. Trump appeared to mostly read from prepared remarks on a teleprompter a pool reporter in the room said was set up in front of his blue podium.

Trump spoke in a somber tone, but his speech slurred a bit as he wrapped his remarks. And near the end of his speech, he misidentified Dayton.

“May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo,” he said. “May God protect them.”

Before that gaffe, he called for Washington to address the mass shooting crisis with “real, bipartisan solutions,” adding: “Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided.”

“In the two decades since Columbine, our nation has watched with rising horror and dread as one mass shooting has followed another — over and over again, decade after decade,” he said. “We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion.”