US President Donald Trump condemned white supremacy and racism and sought greater focus on mental health issues, violent video games and denying arms to people deemed safety risks in his first public remarks on the recent shootings, but made no mention of gun-control measures he had suggested hours earlier.
‘In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said in an address from the White House, with Vice-President Mike Pence by his side. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
Thirty people died in back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the past weekend. While the motive of the second shooter, Connor Betts, whose nine victims included his own sister, remains unclear, Patrick Crusius, the El Paso killer, left an online manifesto in which he had railed against Hispanic “invasion” and “racial mixing”. The number people he killed, which included several Mexican nationals, before giving himself up, went up to 21 Monday.
Some of the words the shooter used in the note were also deployed frequently by Trump to garner support and funds for a wall along the border with Mexico. He took no responsibility for it in the remarks, and also for the ethnic and racial divisions he has fanned and exploited to rally his base.
Trump skipped altogether universal background check for gun purchases, which he had teased in a morning tweet and suggested “marrying” it with immigration reform, which had swiftly denounced by critics as dead-on-arrival, given the complex nature of the two issues.
The president said instead that he has directed the justice department to propose a legislation prescribing the death penalty for hate crimes and mass-murders. He also sought greater focus on “gruesome and grisly video games” and “a culture that celebrates violence” and on mental health issues, which have long been advocated by the gun-lobby and Republicans are alternatives to tougher gun laws. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he said.
Trump also reiterated his support for “red flag” measures to spot potential safety risks and dispossessing them of their weapons and confining them temporarily.
But the president was widely seen to have fallen short once again of endorsing basic gun safety measures, such as universal background checks, which has been proposed in a legislation that passed the Democratic-led House of Representatives in February but has been stalled by the Republican-led Senate.