As President, it’s Donald Trump’s job to do what’s best when it comes to protecting the US and its citizens. However, rather than making immediate, clear and necessary changes to gun control laws, Trump has used recent mass shootings to fuel his own political agenda.
This weekend, more than 30 people were killed in mass shootings across the US. An attack in El Paso, Texas saw 20 people lose their lives in what is believed to be the eighth deadliest shooting in modern US history. Just hours later, another mass shooting in Ohio left a further 10 people dead.
The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as ‘when four or more people, not including the shooter, are shot or killed’, which means another three attacks took place on Sunday (August 4); two in Illinois and one in Tennessee.
At the time of writing (August 5) 255 mass shootings have been recorded in the US since the start of 2019 and that number is rising rapidly. It averages out at more than one mass shooting a day, meaning every single morning US residents wake up knowing there’s a very real possibility they could be caught up in such an attack.
UNILAD spoke to a number of US citizens about the threat of mass shootings. 22-year-old Luke, from New York, said:
I find myself constantly second guessing if I ever really want to attend events such as a concert or festival because they’re large gatherings which these horrible people could target.
No one should have to live with that kind of fear and one way to tackle the issue is with gun control but President Trump seemingly refuses to make the necessary rapid changes in that area that are needed.
Some people have argued gun control isn’t the problem; that mass shootings are the fault of the gunman and nothing more:
People not responsible for the El Paso shooting:
✔ The NRA
✔ The GOP
✔ Responsible gun owners
People responsible for the El Paso shooting:
✔ The shooter
Anyone who says otherwise doesn't care a thing about the victims. They are opportunists with an agenda.
— Kaitlin Bennett (@KaitMarieox) August 4, 2019
Another citizen, 21-year-old student Devyn, told UNILAD:
I don’t believe there is any correlation between Trump’s stance on immigration or his gun control management and this most recent shooting or any recent shooting. In most cases these shootings have been planned over a long course of time and are done by people who are seriously messed up in the head.
I agree to an extent; there’s absolutely blame to be put on the person holding the weapon and mass shootings have still taken place in states with the strictest laws, as with the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting last month, but it’s inconsistencies in state-by-state gun laws which allow this to continuously happen.
There are more than 5 million assault weapons out on the streets of America, which is more than the U.S. military has. That is insane. We must ban the sale, distribution and transfer of assault weapons in the United States.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 4, 2019
The fact of the matter is, implementing stronger gun control laws isn’t going to make things any worse. If it can stop the wrong people getting their hands on a gun, it’s worth doing.
As a Republican, Trump is part of a party which traditionally is a strong defender of the Second Amendment, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and often votes in favour of fewer gun restrictions. The National Rifle Association (NRA) have long formed a core of the party’s electoral infrastructure.
It is time for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut the crap. They must disenthrall themselves from NRA money and ideology long enough for the Senate to pass House bills that have been sitting on McConnell’s desk for months.
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) August 4, 2019
Of course, mass shootings have been occurring since before Trump’s time in office but the current President’s political beliefs certainly aren’t helping the matter. Four of the top 10 deadliest shootings in US history have taken place since the Republican was elected back in 2016; the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting, the 2018 Parkland shooting and the recent El Paso shooting.
Ahead of the attack on Saturday, the gunman is believed to have shared an anti-immigrant manifesto on the internet forum 8chan. The author of the piece described a hatred of race-mixing and suggested the United States should be separated into different territories for different races.
The shooter was from Dallas but opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, which is just miles from the Mexican border, and 635 miles from his place of residence. The city’s population is around 80 per cent Latino and more than 23,000 pedestrians cross the border from its Mexican twin city, Ciudad Juárez, every day for the very simple act of earning a living.
The author of the manifesto said their opinions on immigration predated Trump’s run for president, so it’s not to say the POTUS was the one to put anti-immigrant ideas into their head. However, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has pointed out how Trump’s hostility towards those across the border has fueled the anti-immigration narrative.
During a vigil for victims of the shootings, he said:
I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country.
Following the attack, Trump tweeted to say ‘there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people’. However, in the past the President has laughed in response to a rally audience member yelling ‘shoot them’ in reference to migrants at the border:
The manifesto also praised the killing of 51 people in Christchurch mosques in New Zealand in March and described immigrants of colour as an ‘invasion’.
Trump has previously used the same word to describe immigrants:
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
According to Snopes, an image of the word ‘Trump’ spelled out using firearms was among the items ‘liked’ by an account said to belong to the shooter:
Following each of the four more deadly attacks in the last three years, Trump has responded by tweeting.
Take a look at his responses below:
I will be landing in Las Vegas shortly to pay my respects with @FLOTUS Melania. Everyone remains in our thoughts and prayers.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
One year ago today, a horrific act of violence took the lives of 14 students and 3 educators in Parkland, Florida. On this somber anniversary, we honor their memory and recommit to ensuring the safety of all Americans, especially our Nation’s children… https://t.co/MDnSX1BFeW pic.twitter.com/EVAeSwA8oV
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2019
….Melania and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2019
It’s common for those in power to share their thoughts on social media following a tragedy but there’s often an action to go along with the words. Just six days after the terror attack in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines.
In response to knife crime in the UK, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid introduced new, though admittedly controversial, measures to help tackle the issue. While not everyone agreed with the change in policy, at least changes were made.
@realDonaldTrump You cant govern a country on thoughts and prayers. Not when innocent lives are at stake. Prayers didn't stop Sandy Hook, Parkland, Vegas, El Paso, Dayton, or any other mass shooting. And they are not going to stop the next one. We need change, not prayers. pic.twitter.com/0WnRUzbgPx
— Lucian Robustelli (@LKRobustelli) August 4, 2019
In comparison, Trump appeared to be stuck in an impotent cycle of sending thoughts and prayers to victims before forgetting about the issue until the same things happened again. Though mass shootings are so common it’s impossible, at least for residents, to forget about the threat.
According to ABC News, in the wake of the Parkland attack the President promised the administration would take action on recommendations from survivors of the mass shooting, including improvements to background checks and improved mental health services.
I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
I can speak for all of the senators, congressmen and congresswomen, all of the people in this room that are involved in this decision, that we will act and do something. We will act.
The POTUS initially expressed support for the type of strict gun legislation the National Rifle Association has long opposed, however he abandoned those promises just a couple of weeks later. Now it’s been over a year and hundreds of people are still losing their lives because of issues with gun control.
Total support of Federal Government?
After Parkland you promised to do something about gun violence in America.
And then you remembered that the NRA spent $30 million to elect you and you did nothing.
— Andrew Weinstein (@Weinsteinlaw) August 3, 2019
In an attempt to tackle the epidemic, some members of the government are pushing for alternative ‘solutions’. In the wake of the Parkland attack it was suggested even more guns should be introduced, with teachers carrying firearms to protect their schools.
However, some officials have made their opinions on these recommendations clear – just last week teachers in New York were banned from carrying guns in schools.
Trump spoke to reporters on Sunday about the weekend’s attacks and said ‘a lot’ is already being done to keep guns out of the wrong hands, however he added ‘perhaps more has to be done’.
The President took to Twitter today to announce the action he believes should be taken. In response to the attacks which saw two US citizens shoot and kill numerous other Americans, as well as seven Mexican nationals, Trump is encouraging ‘strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform’.
….this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
It isn’t immediately clear which specific pieces of legislation Trump was advocating in his messages and he didn’t say how the bills would be paired but it’s clear he’s missed the point when it comes to ensuring this kind of event won’t happen again. Instead, he’s using the attacks, which again were carried out by Americans, in order to promote his own anti-immigration agenda.
Trump addressed the issue further at a conference where he partly blamed video games, mental health and the internet for mass shootings. He admitted those who could be a risk should not have access to firearms but did not advocate for federal universal background checks.
Trump’s comments were criticised as he avoided outlining specific action he would take to reform gun laws.
Trump is the one president in American history who could force Republicans to call for gun reform. Instead he’s talking about the media, video games, and immigration.
— The Resistance (@TheGayHumanist) August 5, 2019
Speaking at the White House, the POTUS said:
We vow to act with urgent resolve.
The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.
We must recognise the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalise disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start.
The President continued:
The perils of the internet and social media can not be ignored and they will not be ignored.
We must do a better job on identifying and acting on early warning signs.
We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.
We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.
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. That is why I have called for… extreme risk protection orders.
Today I’m also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty.
@realDonaldTrump's solution to the recent mass shooting tragedies:
Monitor social media accounts for red flags.
Get rid of violent shooting video games.
Reform mental health laws and confine those diagnosed. Hate is a mental illness.
Immediate death penalty for mass shooters.
— John Mason (@LivingGodsTruth) August 5, 2019
As alluded to in the Tweet above, Trump hasn’t outright said he wants to introduce new gun control bills, instead blaming the mentally ill for these atrocities rather than the very obvious problem: selling guns to anyone who wants them nationwide.
After the El Paso shooting, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said gun control would probably not have stopped the attack.
Speaking to CBS News, as per the BBC, Paxton said if a ‘crazy’ gunman launched such an attack, there was no way that law enforcement officers could be there to stop it.
The best way is to be prepared to defend yourself.
Discussing how to survive a terrorist mass shooting, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tells CBS News – "The best way is to be prepared to defend yourself.” So there you have it: the #USA’s answer to gun crime is put more guns into the mix. #GunControl
— Paul Halliday (@PaulTHalliday) August 4, 2019
Paxton’s comments contribute to this toxic belief more guns will help solve the problem but Americans shouldn’t have to always be on alert, ready to pull out their firearm and shoot someone who’s potentially going to shoot them. Encouraging more people to get guns won’t stop mass shootings but it’s highly likely restricting the ability to purchase a weapon will – it’s been proven time and again all over the world.
While Trump’s call for stronger background checks today would be a step in the right direction, it’s a declaration which mirrors the promises made after the Parkland shooting. Survivors of that attack were given hope for change but it’s been over a year and they have still had to live with the knowledge that mass shootings are a looming threat.
After Parkland I went to the White House and sat across the table from President Trump to make the case for strong gun laws. I kept track. Nine times he said he wanted universal background checks. Nine times. Then the next day he met with the NRA and folded. No more folding.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) August 4, 2019
Speaking to UNILAD about the President’s recent tweets responding to the attacks, US resident Luke said:
Frankly that’s the biggest step in the right direction I’ve seen from either him or a member of the Republican party. Coming from a family of outdoorsman and gun owners I understand the desire to own firearms but still nearly all the gun owners in my family are in favour of stronger background checks on people wishing to purchase them.
However, I believe Trump must admonish his strong rhetoric toward immigrants on the southern border in order to remove any kind of legitimacy from people with a white nationalist mindset.
Survivors of mass shootings will know better than anyone how terrifying the threat is and every single US resident is at risk under the current gun laws.
Trump, like every President and US politician before him, should be making clear, immediate changes to gun control laws in order to protect those living in his country, allowing them an existence where ‘being prepared to defend yourself’ isn’t a necessity.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.