(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump rejected tighter gun control after a school shooter killed 19 children and two teachers in Texas, calling for more mental-health care and assailing Democratic mayors for urban crime, according to prepared remarks to a National Rifle Association convention.

“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” Trump said in excerpts provided in advance of his appearance at the meeting in Houston on Friday. “The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”

Trump’s stance meshes with the tenor of this year’s NRA convention, held days after the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that has renewed anger and political recriminations over Washington’s paralysis on gun control. Several hundred protesters rallied outside the venue of the meeting, billed as the “largest gathering of NRA members and Second Amendment supporters” in the US.

Trump said Wednesday, a day after the mass shooting, that he would keep his commitment to address the NRA, which has been one of his major supporters. The group was the largest outside financial backer of his 2016 campaign, spending $31 million to help elect him, and it spent $16.6 million on his re-election campaign in 2020, according to OpenSecrets. 

“While we don’t yet know enough about this week’s killing, we know there are many things we must do,” including addressing mental health in young people early on, dealing with “broken families” and bipartisan measures to “harden our schools,” Trump said in the excerpts.

Firearms, firearm accessories and knives weren’t permitted in the hall because the US Secret Service was handling the event with Trump speaking. Even so, there was a festive mood on the exhibit floor where NRA members browsed among vendors hawking everything from silencers and high-capacity rifle magazines to switchblades and do-it-yourself gun kits.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner rebuffed calls to cancel the convention because of concerns the city would face lawsuits, but he criticized Trump and the other pro-gun politicians who planned to speak, including US Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. Governor Greg Abbott dropped out to travel to the site of the shooting, though he addressed delegates in a video message.

“Why are elected officials speaking there, and what message does that send?” Turner said during a Houston city council session Wednesday. “You can’t pray and send condolences on one day and go and champion guns on the next.”

Trump spoke at the last NRA convention in 2019, held before a two-year break in the meetings due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He’s a vocal supporter of gun rights and often mentions in his endorsements of candidates that they back the US constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In Friday’s speech, he took a swipe at Democratic mayors of cities such as Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, whom he portrayed as failing to combat crime.

After two mass shootings left more than 30 people dead in 2019, Trump said he wants “meaningful background checks.” But he also said he’d ensure the NRA’s views are “fully represented and respected,” and no legislation was enacted.

The former president has been endorsing candidates running in this year’s midterm elections and has teased plans to run for president again in 2024. He hasn’t made a formal announcement, citing campaign finance restrictions once he does.

Convention speakers, including Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and NRA head Wayne LaPierre, portrayed the Uvalde massacre as the act of an evil “monster.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a video message that gun-control laws across the US haven’t stopped “madmen from carrying out evil acts.”

Biden to Visit

President Joe Biden plans to visit Uvalde on Sunday to meet with grieving families and community members. Earlier this week, he decried the deaths as senseless and demanded lawmakers confront what he called “powerful lobbies” that have thwarted gun-control legislation for decades.

“The National Rifle Association has proven time and time again that they are contributing to the problem of gun violence, not trying to solve it,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday. “It’s shameful that the NRA and their allies have stood in the way of every attempt to advance measures that we all know will save lives from gun violence.”

There have been 214 mass shootings in 2022 alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun violence incidents and defines a mass shooting as an event in which at least four people are killed or injured with a firearm.

(Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.)


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