Democrats Skeptical Following Trump Response to Mass Shootings

August 5, 2019 by Dan McCue
U.S. President Donald J. Trump makes a statement at the White House in Washington, D.C. in response to two separate shooting incidents on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (Chris Kleponis/Pool via CNP/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday, two days after weekend shootings in Texas and Ohio left 32 dead, calling on Americans to condemn “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in “one voice,” and vowing to seek a bipartisan response to what has become an epidemic of gun violence across the country.

But Trump’s vague suggestions during a 10-minute address from the Diplomatic Reception Room was met with skepticism by congressional Democrats, who passed legislation mandating tougher background checks for gun purposes, only to see it blocked in the GOP-controlled Senate.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, “in February, the new Democratic House Majority promptly did its duty and passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which is supported by more than 90 percent of the American people and proven to save lives.

“However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called himself the ‘grim reaper’ and refuses to act on this bipartisan legislation.  It is incumbent upon the Senate to come back into session to pass this legislation immediately.”

Speaking from the White House Monday morning, Trump called for stronger background checks on gun buyers, but later appeared to backtrack from those comments.

That further raised the hackles of Pelosi and Schumer, who said, “It took less than three hours for the President to back off his call for stronger background check legislation.  

“When he can’t talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the President remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA,” the Democrats added.

Throughout his remarks Monday morning, the president stuck to his carefully prepared remarks.

He said he directed the FBI to come up with better ways to identify and prevent domestic terrorism – declaring that “hate has no place in America” – but he also blamed mental illness and video games for causing young people to lash out with firearms.

Earlier on Monday, Trump tweeted that a background check bill could be paired with his long-sought effort to toughen the nation’s immigration system. But he didn’t say how or why he was connecting the issues and he did not broach the subject during his remarks.

But the mere suggestion of linking passage of a background check bill with other legislation outraged one Democrat.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leader in the push for stricter gun laws since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state, dismissed the president’s suggestion in unapologetic terms. 

“Tying background checks to immigration reform is a transparent play to do nothing,” he wrote on Twitter. 

All of this suggested that he may leave it to Congress, which is now on August recess, to ultimately deal with the politically fraught issue of guns, with some limitations.

“Hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Trump said, suggesting he will push back on any effort to broaden gun control legislation.

Trump also called for law enforcement and social media companies to do more to combat extremism and spot warning signs of violence online, and said laws need to be revised to make it easier to commit those with mental illness.

He also said he wanted “red flag laws” to separate such individuals from firearms.

In addition to all this Trump directed the Justice Department to seek the swift enforcement of the death penalty in cases of hate crimes and mass shootings.

Several reports over the week suggested the White House was struggling with how to respond to shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Trump himself went on defense, saying at one point that “we have done much more than most administrations.”

House Democrats have been trying to address the issue of gun violence this session, but those efforts have been stymied by the GOP-controlled Senate.

That’s not likely to change, even in light of Trump’s statements Monday.

The president has a history of reversing course on the issue.

He has repeatedly called for strengthening the federal background check system after other mass shootings – and he’s gone so far as to increase data sharing between agencies that feed information into the system.

But he has dug in his heels and resisted Democratic attempts to toughen gun control laws.

The bipartisan legislation approved in the House in February would require federal background checks for all gun sales and transfers and allowed a review period of up to 10 days for background checks on firearms purchases.

The White House threatened a presidential veto if those measures passed Congress.

Among the few who gave Trump high marks Monday, was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called the president’s remarks a “strong statement rejecting hate and white supremacist ideology, urging us all to reject a culture of violence, as well as a call to action on multiple fronts.”

Graham is cosponsor, with Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., of a federal grant program to help local law enforcement hire and consult with mental health professionals to determine whether individuals pose “an imminent threat of violence.”

“I spoke with the president this morning about this proposal and he seems very supportive,” Graham said.

But Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security was having none of it.

“President Trump’s words today are meaningless,” Thompson said.  “We know tragedy after tragedy his words have not led to solid action or any change in rhetoric.  We know his vile and racist words have incited violence and attacks on Americans. Now dozens are dead and white supremacist terrorism, for years, is on the rise and is now our top domestic terrorism threat.  

“America is and always will be a diverse country based on immigration,” the representative continued. “Repugnant anti-immigrant rhetoric and white nationalism simply do not belong here. Those that looked the other way for years – or enabled right-wing extremism for political advantage – are on notice.  We must address this very real and present threat. The safety and security of our communities is at stake.”

In March, a poll conducted by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found a majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws. It found that 67 percent of Americans support making US gun laws stricter, while 22 percent say they should be left as they are and 10 percent think they should be made less strict.

The poll also suggested most Americans would support banning “military-style” semi-automatic weapons, but there’s a wide gulf between Democrats and Republicans on banning specific types of guns. 

Overall, 6 in 10 Americans support a ban on AR-15 rifles and similar semi-automatic weapons. Roughly 8 in 10 Democrats, but just about 4 in 10 Republicans, support that policy, the poll found..

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