President Joe Biden on Sunday will seek to comfort a Texas town ripped apart by the largest US school shooting in a decade amid lingering questions about whether law enforcement’s failure to act swiftly contributed to the death toll.
Biden’s familiar role as comforter-in-chief will be complicated by local anger over a decision by law enforcement in Uvalde, Texas, to allow the shooter to remain in a classroom for nearly an hour while officers waited in the hallway and children in the room made panicked 911 calls for help.
Investigators on Saturday were seeking to determine how critical mistakes were made in the response to the shooting that left 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School dead, and some are calling on the FBI to look into police actions.
Biden is expected to visit a memorial erected at the school, and meet with victims’ families.
“He has to stay focused on the pain and grief of the families and the community and understand that all of this has been compounded by the fact that we still don’t know exactly what happened. The more we learn, the more it seems the children were poorly served,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The Democratic president also confronts the stark reality that he been relatively powerless to stop American mass shootings or convince Republicans that stronger gun controls represent an answer. The Texas visit will be his third presidential trip to a mass shooting site, including earlier this month when he visited Buffalo, New York, after a shooting that left 10 Black people at a supermarket dead.
“Too much violence, too much fear, too much grief,” Biden told graduates in a commencement speech Saturday at the University of Delaware. “We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer. We can finally do what we have to do to protect the lives of the people and of our children.”
The Uvalde shooting has once again put gun control at the top of the nation’s agenda, with supporters of stronger gun laws arguing that the latest bloodshed represents a tipping point.
“The president has a real opportunity. The country is desperately asking for a leader to stop the slaughter from gun violence,” said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America.
He said Biden should immediately establish a senior position in charge of tackling the country’s gun problem and crisscross the United States to put public pressure on Congress to pass meaningful gun reform. He says Biden promised to be a deal maker and to tackle guns.
Vice President Kamala Harris called for a ban on assault-style weapons during a trip to Buffalo on Saturday, saying that in the wake of two back-to-back mass shootings such arms are “a weapon of war” with “no place in a civil society.”
White House aides and close allies say Biden is unlikely to wade into specific policy proposals to avoid disrupting delicate gun control negotiations in the Senate. He is also unlikely to immediately take executive action to crack down on firearms, sending Republican lawmakers otherwise open to negotiating back to their corners, aides say.
Meanwhile, leading Republicans like US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former President Donald Trump rejected calls for new gun control measures and instead suggested investing in mental health care or tightening security at the nation’s schools.
Republican Texas Governor Gregg Abbott denied that newly enacted Texas gun laws, including a controversial measure removing licensing requirements for carrying a concealed weapon, had “any relevancy” to Tuesday’s bloodshed. He suggested state lawmakers focus renewed attention on addressing mental illness.