Protesters in Dayton urge US president to take action after a mass shooting that killed nine and wounded dozens more.
Scores of protesters have greeted US President Donald Trump as he arrived in the city of Dayton, Ohio, to visit survivors of a deadly mass shooting.
The president and first lady Melania Trump began their visit on Wednesday at the Miami Valley Hospital where many of the victims of gun assault were treated. At least nine people and the suspect were killed in Sunday’s attack, one of two mass shootings last weekend.
Outside the hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, setting up a “baby Trump” blimp balloon and holding signs reading “Do Something,” “Save our city,” and “You are why.”
Later on Wednesday, Trump will visit the Texas city of El Paso, on the border with Mexico, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday by a 21-year-old man who had posted an anti-immigrant “manifesto” online.
The back-to-back attacks, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun control.
But Trump contended earlier on Wednesday there was no political support to implement tough controls on the highly lethal assault weapons that were used in the Dayton and El Paso shootings.
However, the president said he would support legislation to prevent mentally ill people from possessing firearms via background checks.
“There is a great appetite and I mean a very strong appetite for background checks and I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before and I think both Republicans and Democrats, they are getting close to doing something on background checks,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing to Ohio and Texas.
He replied negatively when asked if the US could ban assault rifles, saying: “I can tell you there is no political appetite for that at this moment.”
The president also defended himself from criticism that his incendiary rhetoric on immigration was to partly blame for the mass shootings.
Investigators believe the suspected El Paso shooter had posted a racist screed online prior to the gun attack. In it, the suspect had used language echoing Trump’s, referring to migrants trying to enter through the US’s southern border as a “Hispanic invasion”.
The FBI said the Dayton shooter had also explored violent ideologies, but police in Dayton said there was “no indication” the crime was racially motivated.
“My critics are political people,” Trump told reporters. “They are trying to make points. In many cases, they are running for president and they are very low in the polls … These are people who a looking for political gain.”
Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who are both from El Paso, have criticised Trump in the aftermath of the shooting.
They said he was “not welcome” in the city, and were expected to speak at a counter-rally during his visit.
In posts on Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday, Escobar said she had declined the White House’s invitation to join the president on his visit.
“I will again be spending time with fellow El Pasoans who are dealing with the pain and horror left in the wake of this act of domestic terrorism fueled by hate and racism,” she said.
The shootings in Dayton and El Paso, and a third in Gilroy, California on July 28 that left three people dead, involved AR-15 and AK-47-type assault rifles originally designed for war but now widely available in the United States.
The same weapons have been used in the deadliest massacres in the country over the past decade, and gun-control advocates say their ban would reduce the toll in mass shootings.
Support for bans rise after mass shootings, but polls are generally inconclusive.
A Quinnipiac poll in May showed 63 percent of voters favoured a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
In a Gallup poll taken shortly after the October 1, 2017, Las Vegas mass shooting, in which a gunman who stockpiled nearly two dozen assault rifles killed 58 people at a concert, Americans were evenly divided on a total ban on the manufacture, sale or possession of such weapons.
But in a repeat poll in October 2018, Gallup said only 40 percent supported such a sweeping ban, and 57 percent opposed.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies