Donald Trump claimed the fatal shooting of 19 pupils and two teachers in Texas made the case for arming Americans, not disarming them.
The former president was speaking to the National Rifle Association in Texas, the same state where the atrocity was inflicted by a teenage gunman on Tuesday.
After three days when police offered conflicting and incomplete accounts of the shootings, the authorities finally admitted it was the “wrong decision” to delay storming the building to halt Salvador Ramos.
Parents who begged officers to take action were handcuffed, Tasered and pepper-sprayed in the 75 minutes before the 18-year-old was killed by a tactical unit. One mother, who was handcuffed before an officer recognised her and set her free, managed to rescue her two children while Ramos was murdering 10-year-olds feet away. Angeli Rose Gomez told the Wall Street Journal: “The police were doing nothing. They were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
Also among the dead was teacher Irma Garcia, whose husband Joe suffered a fatal heart attack two days after the massacre. They had been high school sweethearts and his family said he died of a broken heart.
Texas governor Greg Abbott had praised the quick response of law enforcement for their courage by running toward gunfire before retracting his statement on Friday and claiming he was misled. The Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw then accused the on-site commander of making the wrong decision during the attack. “He was convinced at the time there was no more threat to the children and the subject was barricaded and they had time to organise. Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision.”
The deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, almost a decade ago has reignited the fierce debate over gun control in the US, with former president Trump backing the second amendment right to bear arms ratified in 1791.
“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” Trump said at the NRA convention. “The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”
Hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the George R Brown Convention Center in Houston – less than a five-hour drive from the site of the massacre – held anti-NRA signs and photos of shooting victims.
Guns are now the leading cause of death among young people in the US, claiming more lives than drugs and car accidents. There have been 900 incidents involving gunfire at schools since the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, which claimed the lives of 20 school children between six and seven years old, and six staff members.
There have been 119 school shootings since 2018 and 27 since the turn of the year, including the latest at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
About 400 million guns are in civilian hands, meaning there are now more guns than people in the US, and there are now more than 45,000 firearm-related deaths a year, more than any comparably advanced nation.
Trump told the NRA the solution was to spend millions overhauling school safety, with fortified single points of entry including metal detectors and at least one armed police officer on every campus.
Ahead of the event, several conservative speakers and musical performers announced they were backing out – including Texas governor Abbott, Senator John Cornyn, American Pie singer Don McLean and the manufacturer of the rifle used in the Uvalde attack.
President Joe Biden, who will visit Uvalde today, suggested after Tuesday’s shooting Americans should stand up to the gun lobby but a Trump was defiant, telling a cheering conference crowd: “Unlike some, I didn’t disappoint you by not showing up.”
The NRA is a major supporter of Trump, who may yet run for president again. The pro-gun group was the largest outside financial backer of his 2016 campaign, spending $31 million to help elect him, and it spent $16.6m on his failed re-election campaign in 2020.
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