People gather at a makeshift memorial honoring victims outside Walmart, near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead on August 6, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected suggestions Wednesday that President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric bears any responsibility for the white nationalism-inspired shootings in El Paso.
“I know the media – particularly the national folks – they want to blame him for everything,” the governor told reporters.
“I have no interest in being part of people’s political narratives. I understand the narratives. I’ve seen it for years and years. I’m trying to focus on solutions,” he said.
DeSantis spoke following a dedication ceremony of a monument for Purple Heart recipients at Tallahassee’s National Cemetery.
Trump is no more responsible than is Bernie Sanders for a supporter who wounded four people during a congressional Republican baseball team practice in June 2017, DeSantis – who was there at the time – suggested.
Blaming political opponents for these tragedies “can go on ad infinitum,” the Republican governor and Trump protégé said.
“That’s why I never blamed Bernie for shooting our baseball [team]. Because, as much as I disagree with what he says, what that individual did was not justifiable. And there was nothing that was said that would justify you doing that. I think we should identify as appropriate and hold the people who do it accountable. But I don’t think it should be a political football – but that really is what it’s become. I think it makes it harder to actually get some things right.”
Legislative Republicans in Florida have denounced white nationalism since the El Paso attack, which killed at least 22 people, and reportedly was inspired by anti-Hispanic animus. The killer, in an apparent manifesto, referred – as has Trump – to an “invasion” by immigrants.
“It seems like El Paso was motivated by antipathy to Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans. That’s obviously a big problem,” DeSantis acknowledged. But similar attacks sprang from different motivations, he added. Indeed, a gunman who killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend may have had left-wing and anti-police views.
“You look at some of these folks – you have the guy in El Paso, which obviously that was an ethnonationalist motivation; the Pulse nightclub was militant Islam; and then you have some people who are just crazy, and there’s not necessarily a clear motivation,” he said.
“You’ve got to be familiar with all of those types of threats and have the warning signs identified, and then do something about it.”
DeSantis has ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop a “threat assessment strategy” – “so that when most of these people are administering warning signs or red flags, that we’re in a position to be able to do something about it and have an intervention,” he said. Additionally, First Lady Casey DeSantis has been traveling the state on a “listening tour” promoting mental health.
Florida Democrats have promised to propose gun control legislation during the legislative session scheduled for early next year.
While campaigning for governor in 2018, DeSantis said he would have vetoed legislation enacted following the Parkland school shooting that raised the age limit for weapons purchased from 18 to 21 and expanded the waiting period for handgun sales.
On Wednesday, he seemed skeptical about Florida’s “red flag” law, which permits law enforcement officers to petition judges to remove firearms from people considered at risk of committing violence.
“If there’s due process, I don’t necessarily oppose that. There’s been about 1,600 orders issued. Maybe that’s been a big difference. I think it’s probably too soon to tell,” DeSantis said.
“I don’t ever sugarcoat any type of things. I used to hate when people would not say that an Islamic-fueled terrorist attack was fueled by that. You’ve got to look at that square,” he said.
“When you’ve got a guy who’s specifically singling out people because of ethnicity, you take that seriously. You’ve also got to look at the Internet. Look, the government’s limited in what it can do, but you have these recesses of the Internet where people who may not have a lot of common compatriots where they live, now they can all congregate in this community online and spread a lot of the vile stuff. It creates much more of a problem than if you didn’t have that.”
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