President Donald Trump says the United States must “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after a mass shooting in the state of Texas that authorities said appeared to be a racially motivated hate crime.
A gunman on Saturday killed 20 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, close to the border with Mexico. Two more victims of the attack died in hospital on Monday.
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A total of eight Mexican citizens were killed in the shooting.
Investigators believe the shooter uploaded a rambling screed online shortly before targeting a busy shopping area, railing against a perceived “invasion” of Latin Americans coming into the US.
“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online, consumed by racist hate,” Trump said on Monday in a televised address to the nation from the White House.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” he added. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”
Hours after the El Paso shooting, another gunman in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people. Police said on Monday that there was ‘no indication’ of a racial motive in the second attack.
Trump blamed the nexus of mental illness, violence in video games and the internet for the deadly mass shootings. He directed the FBI to “disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism”, and ordered the Department of Justice to propose legislation setting the death penalty for those who commit such crimes.
He also said the country needs to reform mental health laws to identify people with mental illnesses or emotional problems, as well as work with social media companies to detect potential mass shooters.
“We must recognise the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalise disturbed minds and perform demented acts,” he added.
The Republican president did not directly address accusations from critics that his anti-immigrant and racially charged comments have contributed to a rise in hate crimes. Democrats had hit hard at Trump on Sunday, with several of the party’s presidential candidates accusing him of being a white nationalist who stoked “fears and hatred and bigotry”.
They cited Trump actions such as calling migrants trying to enter the US through the southern border an “invasion” and verbal attacks on four Congresswomen of colour, in which he told them to “go back” to their countries of origin.
‘Act of terrorism against Mexicans’
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Monday that his government considered the Walmart shooting an “act of terrorism” against Mexicans, while the country’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he hopes the attack will lead to changes in US gun laws.
Earlier on Monday, Trump had called on Republicans and Democrats to work together on strong background checks and possibly combine that legislation with “desperately needed immigration reform”.
But in his comments at the White House, he gave few additional details on what he would push for, only saying: “We must make sure those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.”
The president also signalled he would oppose large-scale gun control efforts pushed by Democrats, saying “Hatred and mental illness pull the trigger, not the gun.”
Trump has previously called for background checks but then backed away from the pledge.
At a February meeting with survivors and family members of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting in which 17 people died, Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks”.
At the time, he claimed he would stand up to the gun lobby and finally get results in quelling gun violence. But he later retreated, expressing support or modest changes to the federal background check system and for arming teachers.
When the House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation expanding background checks for gun sales that same month, the White House threatened a presidential veto if those measures passed Congress.
It said the legislation, which is yet to be voted on by the Senate, would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.
Responding to Trump on Monday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said if the president was serious about strengthening background checks, he should demand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “put the bipartisan, House-passed universal background checks bill up for a vote.”
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.https://t.co/owM8PlkEyX
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 5, 2019
Separately, Democratic legislators, who have fought Trump’s moves to toughen immigration laws and build a wall along the US-Mexico border, also rejected any effort to tie gun control to immigration reform.
“Only a racist, driven by fear, could witness what took place this weekend – and instead of standing up to hatred, side with a mass murderer’s call to make our country more white. We are so much better than this president,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said.