Donald Trump on Monday condemned “racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” after three mass shootings in less than a week and called for bipartisan solutions to end the rash of gun violence.
But Democratic critics say he is offering only limited proposals and remains beholden to the gun lobby.
In a televised address after back-to-back shootings over the weekend in Ohio and Texas that left 31 people dead, the U.S. President pressed Congress to pass laws that would allow police to seize guns from people deemed an imminent risk to the public. He pledged to increase resources for law enforcement to tackle domestic terrorism, mental illness and the spread of online hate speech, and promised to make hate crimes capital offences.
“We vow to act with urgent resolve,” he said in a 10-minute scripted address. “Hate has no place in America.”
Mr. Trump signalled his support for stronger background checks, but offered few specifics beyond calling for “red-flag” laws that would allow police and family members to petition a court to remove guns from people because of mental-health concerns.
Democrats quickly accused Mr. Trump of hypocrisy, noting that the President has abandoned earlier calls for new gun-control measures. He pledged to be “very strong on background checks” after a February meeting with survivors of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. But he later threatened to veto two Democratic-led bills in Congress that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.
“It took less than three hours for the President to back off his call for stronger background-check legislation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Monday. “When he can’t talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the President remains prisoner to the gun lobby.”
The three mass shootings in span of a week – two on the weekend in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio, and one last weekend in Gilroy, Calif. – have thrust the issue of gun control back into the forefront of the debate in Washington. The shootings have deepened a partisan rift in how lawmakers intend to tackle an epidemic of gun violence.
Federal prosecutors in El Paso say they are investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism, but police in Ohio and California say they have not yet determined whether there was any racial motive in those attacks.
U.S. lawmakers expressed outrage at the shootings and urged action, but showed little sign of compromise on how to solve the rise of gun violence that is gripping the country.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump suggested on Twitter that Congress tie any legislation on firearm background checks to stricter immigration laws and partly blamed the media for the shootings.
The remarks drew widespread criticism, given that the gunman who killed at least 22 people in El Paso is believed to have posted a manifesto online complaining of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Mr. Trump also repeated talking points popular among Republican lawmakers and gun-rights lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association. He focused much of the blame for the weekend of bloodshed on “cultural” issues wrought by violent video games and hate spread through social media. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate judiciary committee, said Monday that he planned to take up the President’s call and introduce a bipartisan bill that would encourage states to create their own red-flag laws. “Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behaviour that are either ignored or not followed up,” he said in a statement. “State red-flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”
Democratic Congressional leaders instead demanded that the Republican-controlled Senate pass laws requiring universal background checks and extending the waiting period to purchase a firearm from three days to 10. Those measures are contained in bills that passed the Democratic-controlled House in February, but have yet to be taken up by the Senate.
The U.S. Congress has been paralyzed for years on the issue of gun control, since laws banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines expired in 2004.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration banned bump stocks – attachments that allow rifles to fire like an automatic weapon – which a gunman used in a 2017 shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people. But there have been at least 10 more mass shootings since then.
In the wake of the most recent spate of violence, some law-enforcement officials said they were alarmed at how easy it remained for people to purchase weapons capable of inflicting mass damage.
In Dayton, police said the 24-year-old shooter who killed nine people, including his sister, purchased a firearm similar to an AR-15 online and then modified it to hold at least 250 bullets. “To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated, is problematic,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Monday.
Mr. Trump also called on Monday for law enforcement to tackle the spread of hate on forums such as 8chan, an online message board popular with far-right supporters where several gunmen, including allegedly the shooter in El Paso, have posted hate-filled manifestos.
On Sunday, internet service provider Cloudflare said it would stop providing services to 8chan, which was offline on Monday. “The rationale is simple: They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths,” Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince said in statement.
But he warned that the message board was likely to re-emerge quickly elsewhere online. “In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the Internet’s [problem],” he said.