WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump urged the nation Monday to condemn bigotry and white supremacy after a pair of mass shootings and focused on combating mental illness over new gun control measures in remarks delivered from the White House.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
His nationally televised comments followed a weekend of carnage in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 29 people dead and scores more wounded. The shooter in El Paso appears to have posted an anti-immigrant screed on social media, and authorities are seriously considering charging him with federal hate crimes.
Trump condemned the “two evil attacks” and vowed to act “with urgent resolve.”
He outlined a number of steps, including so-called “red-flag laws,” that focus on better identifying mentally ill people who should not be allowed to purchase firearms.
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” said Trump, who did not take questions from reporters.
Hours earlier, on Twitter, he called for “strong background checks” and suggested pairing gun legislation with new immigration laws, a top priority of his that he has failed to move through Congress. Trump did not elaborate on his call for stronger background checks during his televised remarks.
“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain,” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump made a similar call to strengthen background checks after a mass shooting last year at a Florida school and has since threatened to veto bills passed by House Democrats seeking to do so.
In his tweets, Trump said “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”
In late February, the Democratic-led House approved the first major new firearm restrictions to advance in a generation. The proposed legislation would amend federal gun laws to require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers.
Federally licensed dealers are required to run background checks on people who buy guns, but private sellers who are not federally licensed are not. Under the bill, private parties would have to seek out a federal licensee to facilitate a gun deal.
The next day, the chamber passed a separate bill that would extend the time for the government to complete a background check on someone trying to buy a gun from a licensed dealer before the sale can go through.
Neither measure, each of which passed with mostly Democratic votes, has advanced in the Republican-led Senate. Trump has threatened to veto the two bills, saying they do not sufficiently protect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
In the wake of the latest mass shootings, Democrats have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to call senators back to Washington from recess to take action.
In a tweet Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Trump to weigh in with McConnell.
“Instead of flailing around blaming everything under the sun, if the president is serious about ‘strong background checks’ there’s one thing he can do: Demand Sen. McConnell put the bipartisan, House-passed universal background checks bill up for a vote,” Schumer said on Twitter.
Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks” in the days after the February 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead.
He later retreated, voicing support for relatively modest changes to the federal background check system, as well as for arming teachers.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, defended Trump’s record on gun safety on Sunday, pointing to what he characterized as “some sensible improvements.”
Mulvaney, during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” cited executive action to ban “bump stocks” and other gun modifiers that make semiautomatic firearms fire faster. Those devices were used in the October 2017 shooting at a Las Vegas musical festival that left 58 people dead.
“I think we all agree that sick people who are intent on doing things like this should not be able to buy guns legally,” Mulvaney said. “The challenge of course is trying to identify who is sick when they try and buy their weapons, and that’s the type of discussion we have to have.”
In another tweet Monday morning, Trump appeared to blame the media for recent mass shootings.
“The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country,” he wrote. “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!”
In recent days, many Democrats have said that divisive rhetoric from Trump on immigration has contributed to the carnage.
“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country,” former congressman Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, told reporters on Sunday at a vigil in El Paso for victims of the shooting. “He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country.”
While the motives of the shooter in Dayton’s entertainment district remain unclear, the shooter at an El Paso Walmart Supercenter in El Paso is thought to have posted an anti-immigrant screed on 8chan, an online messaging board known for its racist, bigoted and anti-Semitic content, authorities said.
Portions of the 2,300-word essay, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” closely mirror Trump’s rhetoric, as well as the language of the white nationalist movement, including a warning about the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
The author’s ideology is so aligned with the president’s that he decided to conclude the manifesto by clarifying that his views predate Trump’s 2016 campaign and arguing that blaming him would amount to “fake news,” another frequent Trump phrase.
Over time, Trump has floated support for legislation to remake the legal immigration system under a “merit-based” plan that would prioritize green cards for those with high education levels, skills in high-tech industries and English proficiency, while significantly slashing the number of green cards for immigrants seeking to be reunited with family in the United States – which the president has derisively called “chain migration.”
Trump has also voiced support for a Senate Republican bill that would make it harder for thousands of Central American migrants to apply for and receive asylum for entry into the United States.
The Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.