WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump dismissed legislation to ban assault rifles as politically unfeasible yesterday as he prepared to visit the sites of two deadly mass shootings that shocked the country and drew criticism of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
As he left the White House, Mr Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.
"I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House. "But I will certainly bring that up... There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks."
The President faced an uncertain welcome yesterday in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early last Sunday and in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday before the gunman was taken alive.
The back-to-back massacres, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio's Republican governor Mike DeWine at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of "Do something!"
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said on Tuesday she would welcome the Republican President, who has said he wants to meet law enforcement, first responders and survivors.
But Ms Whaley said she planned to tell Mr Trump "how unhelpful he's been" on the issue of gun violence, referring to the speech he gave on Monday focusing on mental health reform, tighter Internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty.
I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment. But I will certainly bring that up... There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks. ''
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on legislation to ban assault rifles.
Critics have said Mr Trump stokes violence with racially incendiary rhetoric. The El Paso massacre is being investigated as a hate crime and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the Dayton shooter had explored violent ideologies.
Democrats accuse Mr Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws they insist are needed to restrict gun ownership and the types of weapons that are legal.
In a sign of higher tensions after the shootings, a motorcycle backfiring on Tuesday night in New York's Times Square sent crowds running for fear of another gun attack.
"People are obviously very frightened," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.
An open letter to Mr Trump yesterday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having "a deep tradition of racial harmony", whose people came together after the tragedy.
US Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declared that Mr Trump "is not welcome here". She said on Twitter on Tuesday she declined a White House invitation to join Mr Trump in El Paso after being told he was too busy to speak with her by phone in advance. Mr Trump staged his first political rally this year in El Paso in February.
But El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said he would meet the President during the visit.
"This is not a political visit," he told reporters. "He is President of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfil my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet the President and discuss whatever our needs are in this community," he said.