Washington/New York: Two mass shootings within 24 hours put the nation’s focus back onto gun control and, given the alleged anti-immigrant views of a shooter in Texas, elevate the issue of the dangers of hate speech.
In his first on-camera response to the killings, which left about 30 people dead, President Donald Trump said that “hate has no place” in the U.S.
Gun control has been a mostly peripheral theme on the Democrats’ 2020 campaign trail until now. Some have written it off as a lost cause after years of violent incidents with little policy response from lawmakers or others.
Trump said on Sunday that he’d be making remarks around 10am EDT on Monday, and that he’d spoken to Attorney General William Barr and others.
“Hate has no place in our country and we’re going to take care of it,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey as he boarded Air Force One after spending the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster. Of gun violence, he said, “this has been going on for years.”
The topic dominated Sunday political talk shows, with presidential candidates including Beto O’Rourke, the former Congressman from El Paso, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro making the link between inflamed rhetoric from Trump and violent behavior.
Police on Saturday arrested a 21-year-old Texas man suspected opening fire with an assault rifle at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing at least 20 people. The suspect allegedly drove hundreds of miles from his near home near Dallas to carry out the attack in the heavily Hispanic city on the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Department of Justice is treating the case as domestic terrorism, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Twitter. A conviction could entail the death penalty.
Authorities are investigating a possible link to an anti-immigrant document that surfaced online shortly after the killings, with anger directed against immigrants and specifically against Mexicans. Given that, the carnage gave a renewed impetus to critics of Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration. Six Mexicans were killed in the El Paso shooting, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Sunday after earlier saying three.
Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting, a gunman in body armor and armed with at least 100 rounds of ammunition killed nine people and injured dozens of others in a popular nightlife district of Dayton, Ohio, police there said. The suspect, who was killed, was identified Sunday a man in his 20s, Connor Betts of the nearby town of Bellbrook, Ohio. No motive was publicly identified.
Buttigieg said the shootings were a twin wake-up call for tighter gun control and combating what he called white nationalist terrorism.
“We’ve got to call that what it is if we’re going to fight it,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We have a president who made his career politically on demonizing Mexicans. We’re seeing reports that the shooter yesterday had his goal as shooting as many Mexicans as possible. You don’t have to use a lot of imagination to connect the dots here.”
Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said Trump has “given license for this toxic brew of white supremacy to fester more and more” in the U.S.
In a series of tweets, Trump called the El Paso killings “an act of cowardice,” saying there are “no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.” The White House ordered flags flown at half staff on U.S. public buildings and military posts for five days.
Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2019
Trump launched his presidential bid in June 2015 with a speech that slammed immigrants from Mexico as drug dealers, criminals and rapists. Since then, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a focus on the U.S.-Mexican border, has been a centerpiece of the Trump administration.
The president has described the southern border as “a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.” He’s termed gang members “animals” and sent troops to the southern border to “stop the attempted Invasion of Illegals.” He’s also said in tweets and at rallies that the U.S. is simply “full.”
In recent weeks the president has stepped up racially-charged rhetoric against Democratic lawmakers and others in an apparent bid to animate his base for the 2020 election. Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, another Democratic candidate for the White House, said on Fox News that Trump’s rhetoric has stoked “toxicity.”
“That type of toxicity has now permeated the whole country to where some jackass in Texas drives 10 hours to go shoot Mexicans,” Ryan said.
Last week, faith leaders from the National Cathedral in Washington — who typically stay far from the political fray — said Trump’s “violent dehumanizing words” attacking minority lawmakers and others risked disastrous consequences.
O’Rourke, who left the campaign trail to return to his home town on Saturday, was asked on ABC whether he was suggesting Trump bears responsibility for the El Paso events.
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“I am, because he does,” O’Rourke said. “He doesn’t just tolerate, he encourages the kind of open racism and the violence that necessarily follows, that we saw here in El Paso.”
Trump’s racial broadsides are now coming at such frequency and volume as to infuse and eclipse most other business and keep the issue foremost in voters’ minds headed into his re-election.
It was a multi-day Twitter attack by Trump on Representative Elijah Cummings, a black Democrat from Maryland, that prompted the leaders at the National Cathedral, which has been the site of four presidential funerals, to post the essay, “Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump,” on July 30.
“Violent words lead to violent actions,” the Cathedral’s three top religious leaders said. “They are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human ‘infestation’ in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation.”
Congress has failed to pass any meaningful gun restrictions in the wake of the 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The killing of 26 people, including 20 children between six and seven years old, had been seen as a potential tipping point for measures to restrict access to firearms.
Trump moved to bar bump stocks, devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon fire like a machine gun, after a massacre at a Las Vegas concert in October 2017 killed almost 60 people. He also said after a mass shooting in Virginia in June that he’ll “seriously look” and banning gun silencers, but no action on that has been taken.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney noted that the Texas shooter’s alleged manifesto said he’d developed his anti-immigrant views years ago. He said it’s unfair to blame Trump for the actions of “sick, sick people“ and a societal “cancer” that pre-dated the administration.
“There are people in this country this morning thinking that President Trump was happy by this,” Mulvaney said on ABC. “That’s a sad, sad state of this nation. He’s angry. He’s upset. He wants it to stop.”
Castro, though, spoke about the responsibility of the commander in chief and how, unlike most presidents, Trump has chosen not to try to unite people but “made a clear choice to divide people for his own political benefit.”
“There’s one person that’s responsible directly for that shooting in El Paso. And that’s the shooter,” said Castro. “At the same time, as our national leader, you have a role to play in either fanning the flames of division or trying to bring Americans of different backgrounds together.”
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said he was “horrified” by the “anti-Hispanic bigotry” in the shooter’s alleged manifesto.
As the son of a Cuban immigrant, I am deeply horrified by the hateful anti-Hispanic bigotry expressed in the shooter’s so-called ‘manifesto.’ This ignorant racism is repulsive and profoundly anti-American.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 4, 2019
On Sunday, Trump said he’s spoken to a lot of people and that his administration has “done much more than most administrations” on the issue of gun violence.
‘Perhaps more has to be done,” he said.
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