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Speaking in the state where a deadly elementary school shooting left 19 children and two teachers dead this week, former President Donald Trump backed up Republican calls to resist new gun restrictions and instead called for increased mental health services and school security measures.
Trump spoke Friday at a National Rifle Association convention in Houston after the shooting in Uvalde renewed attention on the nation’s gun laws. He opened the speech with a moment of silence and recognition of the tragedy, calling it a “heinous massacre” that was “horrible” to see, watch and hear about. He said the nation needed to unite around the path forward but chastised Democrats for advancing an “extreme political agenda.”
“Now is the time to find common ground,” Trump said. “Sadly, before the sun had even set on the horrible day of tragedy, we witnessed a now familiar parade of cynical politicians seeking to exploit the tears of sobbing families to increase their own power and take away our constitutional rights.”
The Secret Service banned guns from the hall during Trump’s address.
The NRA has spent more than $2 million on lobbying politicians in the Texas Legislature, which is more than in any other state, according to The Dallas Morning News. Texas Republicans have already shown significant resistance to such legislation in the wake of this week’s shooting.
The state’s top lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, expressed openness to slight restrictions in the immediate wake of mass shootings in 2018 and 2019, only to drop those ideas later. In 2021, during the first legislative session after a mass shooting in El Paso left 23 dead, the Texas Legislature passed a permitless carry law that allows for individuals to carry handguns without a license or training.
“We need to drastically change our approach to mental health,” Trump said. “All of us must unite, Republican and Democrat, in every state and at every level of government to finally harden our schools and protect our children. What we need now is a top-to-bottom security overhaul at schools all across our country.”
As part of that overhaul, Trump said buildings should have a “single” point of entry, strong fencing and metal detectors. Every school also needs armed officers, and trained teachers should carry concealed weapons, he added.
Trump’s suggestion that school buildings should have just one entrance echoes calls from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this week. School and safety experts say that such a measure is unrealistic, as many schools have thousands of individuals who could take hours to go in and out of buildings. As a result, a single entrance could also pose a fire hazard. Older schools would also need to spend significant money renovating their buildings to meet such a standard.
Trump aligned with many Republicans who have insisted that responsible gun ownership is the best defense to a dangerous individual with a firearm.
“In the absence of a member of law enforcement, there is no one you would rather have nearby when a crisis strikes than an armed expertly trained member of the NRA,” Trump said.
During the speech, Trump also praised Jack Wilson, a churchgoer who shot and killed a shooter at a church in White Settlement in 2019. Wilson, who Trump invited to give remarks on stage, was able to carry a concealed weapon after the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing the practice in churches.
That law responded to the 2017 shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, and Republicans attributed the killing of the shooter in White Settlement as evidence that the rule worked as intended.
“Jack’s story reminds us [that] defending our Second Amendment is about defending law, order and life,” Trump said. “We know that as law and order conservatives, we have no higher goal than to reduce violent crime by the greatest degree possible.”
Trump’s remarks at the annual NRA meeting followed live speeches from Cruz and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, as well as prerecorded remarks from Abbott — who was originally slated to speak in person but switched to a virtual appearance after facing extensive criticism over his attendance when news of the shooting emerged.
Patrick, the lieutenant governor, also withdrew from speaking at the convention, explaining that he would not want “to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde.”
At the beginning of his speech, Trump took a dig at Abbott and Patrick for not canceling their in-person experiences.
“Unlike some, I didn’t disappoint you by not showing up,” Trump said to cheers from the audience.
Toward the end, Trump’s remarks turned into a stump speech to rally Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.
“In 2022, we are going to vote for tough on crime, pro-Second Amendment candidates in record numbers. Get out and vote — make sure the voting is honest, by the way,” he said. “Together we’re going to take back the House, we’re going to take back the Senate. And in 2024, we are going to take back that great and beautiful White House that we love and cherish so much.”