Following two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas this weekend that left 29 dead, several 2020 Democratic candidates on Sunday said President Trump's rhetoric towards minorities and immigrants is at least partly to blame for inciting such violence.
Several of two dozen candidates vying for the Democratic nomination also castigated the president and his fellow Republicans for failing to enact stricter gun control measures.
Federal authorities believe the gunman in Saturday’s shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that left 20 dead may have been motivated by a deep hatred towards Mexicans — both legal immigrants and undocumented migrants — coming into the United States. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Authorities have not yet confirmed a motive for the mass shooting in the Dayton, Ohio, nightlife district — just 13 hours after the El Paso incident — that left at least 10 dead before the gunman was shot dead.
The shootings come amidst Trump and Democrats fighting over a series of verbal attacks from Trump against minority lawmakers over the last several weeks, including a series of tweets aimed at four freshman House Democrats — all women of color — who he suggested should "go back" to where they come from.
The president, who made building a wall at the U.S-Mexico border a central plank of his 2016 presidential run, denounced the El Paso incident on Twitter as an “act of cowardice." He later said in brief remarks to reporters Sunday that "hate has no place in our country." Trump also argued his administration has already done "a lot" to combat gun violence but that perhaps there was more to do.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who represented El Paso in Congress and is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in television interviews Sunday that he believes Trump is a "racist" and charged that Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and asylum seekers is in part to blame for the horrendous attack in Texas
"Anybody who begins their campaign for the presidency by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals; anyone who, as president, describes asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border as an infestation or an invasion or animals; anyone who describes those who do not match the majority of this country as somehow inherently dangerous or defective; sows the kinds of fear, the kind of reaction that we saw in El Paso yesterday," O’Rourke told CBS’s "Face the Nation."
Investigating El Paso shooting as act of domestic terrorism
Law enforcement authorities on Sunday said they were investigating the shooting in El Paso as an act of domestic terrorism. Authorities were reviewing an anti-immigrant manifesto they believe the gunman posted online minutes before the shooting. The white suspect is believed to have intentionally targeted the heavily Hispanic area.
President reacts to rampages: Trump said 'perhaps' more needs to be done on gun control following two mass shootings
But Trump also seemed to blame the rampages on mental illness.
"If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness," he said. "These are both really people that are very, very seriously mentally ill."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another presidential hopeful, expressed alarm that Trump managed to make his initial statement to reporters on the rampages without uttering the word "gun."
"We have heard this before, and he didn't even mention the word guns," Klobuchar told CNN. "I will say, mental illness rates of the United States are similar to mental illness rates across the world, but we are the country that has these mass shootings at such tragic extraordinary numbers because of these assault weapons."
Democrats have sought and failed to push for tougher gun control after several high-profile mass shootings over the last decade, including tragedies at Virginia Tech University in 2007 that left 32 dead, the 2012 assault at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. where 26 children and teachers were slain, and the 2017 shooting of Las Vegas concertgoers that left 58 dead.
Mulvaney: It's not fair to 'lay this at the feet of the president'
Acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, on Sunday pushed back against the notion that Trump hasn’t approached white nationalism as a serious problem.
“They are sick, sick people and the president knows that,” Mulvaney said of the El Paso and Dayton gunman. “I don’t think it’s fair to try and lay this at the feet of the president.”
Another 2020 candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, did not mince words in placing blame on Trump.
“He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Booker said of the president. “He is responsible because he is failing to condemn white supremacy and see it as it is, which is responsible for such a significant amount of the terrorist attacks. He is responsible because he is president of the United States and has failed to do anything significant to stop the mass availability of weapons to people who intend to do harm.”
Democratic frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden has hammered at Trump since launching his candidacy in April for stoking racial divide — noting the president’s comments that there are “very fine people” on both sides after a counter-protester was killed by a man who had espoused racist ideology during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017.
In the aftermath of this weekend’s shootings, Biden — who led the Obama administration’s failed 2013 push to reinstate to ban assault weapons, limit sales of high-capacity magazines and require background checks on all gun transfers — said in an email to supporters that it was time to “stand up to the NRA and gun manufacturers.”
Biden also said it was even more important to address the scourge of white supremacy.
“We continue to bear witness to acts of terror carried out with a common thread: hatred of 'the other,'” wrote Biden, who also noted recent anti-Semitic attacks by gunmen in Pittsburgh in October that left 11 dead and another in Poway, California, in April where one woman was killed and three others were injured. “We are in a battle for the soul of this nation. And in this moment, we all have a responsibility to declare with conviction that hatred and bigotry and white supremacy have no place in America.”
Former HUD Secretary and 2020 hopeful Julian Castro said that the blame for the incident ultimately belonged to gunman. But Castro, who previously served as mayor of San Antonio, said Trump’s rhetoric has created a divisiveness in the nation.
"As our national leader, you have a role to play in either fanning the flames of division or trying to bring people together," said Castro told ABC's This Week. "This president, very early on, made a clear choice to divide people for his own political benefit, and this is some of the consequences we're seeing of that.”
Gun control hasn't been at the forefront of issues on 2020 trail
In the early going of the 2020 race, gun control has been a mostly backburner issue as the roughly two dozen candidates hold relatively similar stances on pushing for tougher laws. Meanwhile, Trump has vowed to protect gun owners’ rights and framed the Democratic field as determined to erode the Second Amendment.
“You can forget about keep and bear arms, you can forget it,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Cincinnati last week.
In the Dayton shooting — as was the case in El Paso and scores of other rampages — the gunman was armed with a high-powered rifle that allowed him to exact massive amount of bloodshed quickly. Law enforcement officials in Dayton said that police neutralized the shooting in about 30 seconds, but the gunman still killed nine people and injured 27 others in the brief, terrorizing assault.
Booker has unveiled perhaps the most broad-ranging gun policy agenda among Democrats vying for the nomination, a 14-point plan that includes establishing a national gun licensing program, limiting individual purchases of firearms to one per month, and placing a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
14-point Booker gun violence plan: Cory Booker wants to start national gun licensing program, limit firearms purchases
Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris has said she would take executive action to ban the importation of AR-15-style weapons into the U.S. if she’s elected president, if Congress does not take action within 100 days of her taking office.
O’Rourke unveiled a gun control agenda that calls for implementing universal background checks on all gun sales, banning the sale of assault weapons and creating federal red flag laws that would allow law enforcement to request the courts allow them to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone with a gun deemed a danger to themselves or others.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, who has underscored on the trail that he’s part of a generation in which school shootings have become commonplace, says he wants to ban assault weapons, establish a nationwide gun licensing system, and invest in urban gun violence intervention programs if he's elected.
Buttigieg said Sunday that the El Paso incident was driven by “white nationalism” that has been “condoned at the highest levels” in Washington.
“We need to acknowledge that this is a problem.” Buttigieg said on Fox News Sunday. “Right now you see it being echoed by the White House and there is a measure of responsibility that you just can’t get away from."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another Democrat vying to take on Trump, has called on treating gun violence as a national health epidemic.
"We can do universal background checks, we can ban the weapons of war, but we can also double down on the research and find out what really works,” Warren said during the June presidential debates in Miami.
Senators calling for Mitch McConnell to cancel August recess
Several Democrats on Sunday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the chamber's August recess so that they can take up gun control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings.
The Democratic-controlled House in February passed legislation that would create new background check requirements for private gun transfers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also running as a Democrat in the 2020 presidential election, called on McConnell to bring the Senate back into session. Congress is in recess until September.
"Mitch McConnell should bring the Senate back into session immediately to pass HR 8, the gun safety bill that has already passed the House. That's a first step to addressing our serious gun violence epidemic," Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who met with law enforcement and city officials in Dayton Sunday, also called on McConnell to call the Senate back in session to address the matter.
“Congress needs to do something,” Brown said. “Our state legislature again woefully inadequate in dealing with gun violence also needs to react and respond in the right way so that these incidents just don't happen, week after week after week after week in our country.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: El Paso, Ohio shootings: 2020 Democrats put part of the blame on Trump