WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two mass shootings that killed 30 people in Texas and Ohio reverberated across the United States’ political arena on Sunday as Democratic presidential candidates called for stricter gun laws and accused President Donald Trump of stoking racial tensions.
Dozens were also wounded Saturday and early Sunday in shootings within just 13 hours of each other in carnage that shocked a country that has become grimly accustomed to mass shootings and heightened concerns about domestic terrorism.
The first massacre occurred on Saturday morning in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, where a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store before surrendering. Authorities in Texas said the rampage appeared to be a racially motivated hate crime and federal prosecutors are treating it as a case of domestic terrorism.
Across the country, a gunman opened fire in a downtown district of Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding at least 26 others. The assailant was killed by police.
The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s U.S. presidential election, with most Democratic candidates repeating calls for tighter gun control measures and some drawing connections to a resurgence in white nationalism and xenophobic politics in the United States.
Several 2020 candidates said Trump was indirectly to blame.
“Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” U.S. Senator Cory Booker said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Republican president called the El Paso shooting a “hateful act” and “an act of cowardice.” On Sunday, he said federal and local authorities were working together on both attacks.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney rebutted the Democrats’ allegations and attributed the shootings to “sick” individuals.
“There’s no benefit here in trying to make this a political issue, this is a social issue and we need to address it as that,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
It was a personal issue for Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman who returned to El Paso after the attack in his hometown. Asked on CNN if he believed Trump was a white nationalist, he responded, “Yes, I do.”
“Let’s be very clear about what is causing this and who the president is,” O’Rourke said. “He is an open avowed racist and is encouraging more racism in this country.”
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said later on CNN that he agreed that Trump was a white nationalist.
“It gives me no pleasure to say this but I think all of the evidence out there suggests that we have a president who is a racist, who is a xenophobe who appeals, and is trying to appeal, to white nationalism,” Sanders said on CNN.
A hallmark of Trump’s presidency has been his determination to curb illegal immigration. Trump has drawn criticism for comments disparaging Mexican immigrants and referring to the flood of migrants trying to enter through the U.S. southern border as an “invasion.”
In recent weeks, critics also accused Trump of racism after his attacks on members of Congress who are members of racial or ethnic minorities. Trump has denied he is a racist.
Trump has not made a public statement on the shootings other than his Twitter posts, which also expressed sympathy for the victims.
The White House cannot shirk its responsibility in shaping public discourse, said Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. “There’s no question that white nationalism is condoned at the highest levels of our government,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
Senator Kamala Harris and Julian Castro accused Trump of using the powerful microphone of the White House to sow division.
“He’s spoken about immigrants as being invaders. He’s given license for this toxic brew of white supremacy to fester more and more in this country, and we’re seeing the results of that,” Castro, the former Democratic mayor of San Antonio, said on ABC.
While authorities were still investigating the motive of the El Paso shooter, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the rampage appeared to be a hate crime. Police Chief Greg Allen said a “manifesto” believed to be from the suspect indicated “there is a potential nexus to a hate crime.”
The statement called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The manifesto also expressed support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
The shooting renewed attention to domestic terrorism. FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate hearing in July the majority of the domestic terrorism the FBI has investigated were “motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign with a reminder of Trump’s response to the deadly 2017 attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he said there were “fine people” on both sides.
Biden refrained from attacks on Trump on Sunday, instead calling for action to end “our gun violence epidemic.”
Pope Francis condemned the spate of attacks on “defenseless people” in the United States, including a rampage last Sunday in which a gunman killed three people and wounded about a dozen at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.
El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighbouring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, binational population in North America.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said three Mexican nationals were among the 20 people killed in the shooting, and nine others were among 26 who were wounded.
The carnage ranked as the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, after a 1984 shooting in San Ysidro, California, in which 21 people died.
Despite several high-profile mass shootings in recent years, gun control has proven to be an intractable debate within the U.S. Congress, as lawmakers have failed to advance any significant policy changes to combat them.
Republicans and some moderate Democrats have resisted placing additional restrictions on gun ownership, and efforts to improve mental health services or establish new ways to identify potential shooters before they act have not gained traction.
Nonetheless, Democrats responded to the pair of shootings this weekend with renewed calls for Washington to take action.
The Senate’s leading Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold an emergency session to debate gun control legislation, after lawmakers left Washington just a few days ago for a 5-week recess. McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.