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Another mass shooting, another president trying to comfort the nation

In the minutes and hours after the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday, President Trump once again assumed what has been a de-facto presidential role of Comforter-in-Chief.
First in a statement from the East Room of the White House and later on Twitter, Trump addressed the most recent mass shooting, placing it in the larger and troubling context of what has become practically an American ritual: an unending string of horrific and gun-related tragedies.
Saying that mass shootings like the one in Texas have been “going on too long in our country,” Trump moved into a now nearly rote commentary:
“I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas,” Trump said. “This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now.”
“We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack,” he added.

We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High School – we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever… pic.twitter.com/LtJ0D29Hsv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018

As mass shootings gradually became a fixed part of the American life, presidents over the decades have each had to deal with them, each in his own way. Much of that reaction is determined by what presidents in the past had done and said, writes Tevi Troy in a National Affairs article called “Presidents and Mass Shootings.” He said the one of the first recognized mass shooting in the United States – the sniper killing people from a tower on the University of Texas campus – was met with presidential silence by then Lyndon Johnson, simply because there was no precedent for him to follow.
“The first mass shooting in the collective American memory was the University of Texas at Austin shooting in August 1966,” Troy writes. “The shooter, armed with six weapons and ensconced at the top of the University of Texas Tower, killed 17 people, wounding more than 30 others. As this was the first high-profile mass shooting in American history, President Lyndon Johnson had no precedents to look to in order to help determine his reaction.
“It’s hard to overestimate the degree to which precedent is a determinant of presidential behavior. Presidents and their staffs continually look to their predecessors to see how similar situations were handled. They often find justification for their behavior in the actions of those who came before them; when they choose to go in a different direction, it is usually not out of ignorance, but in an effort to make some kind of statement about how they believe presidents should act.’
“Furthermore, presidents are acutely aware that journalists and historians track when presidents stick to precedent, and when they break it.”
Writing in Esquire magazine, Michael Sebastian points out that “Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama leaned on empathy and action when addressing the country after similar tragedies. None of their words helped abate mass shootings in America, but the top-down response from the president matters to not only the victims’ families but also the nation as a whole. Abandoning our humanity at times of tragedy can only make this national sickness worse.”
Here’s a look at some of the ways Trump and his Oval Office predecessors have addressed the nation after mass shootings:
February 2018
Parkland, Florida
Criticizing law enforcement’s initial response, Trump said that he would have rushed in to save the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School from a shooter, even if he were unarmed at the time. Speaking to a governors’ conference, Trump acknowledged that “you don’t know until you test it.” But he added that he thinks he would have exhibited bravery “even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”
After the Parkland shooting, Trump was criticized for not immediately making a public statement as he would do after this week’s shooting. In February, while he did tweet his condolences to the families of the victims in the hours after the shooting, Trump would wait until the following day to speak to the nation by delivering a subdued seven-minute speech at the White House.
“We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” Trump said, “that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”
He did not mention firearms in the statement.
July 2016
Dallas
After five police officers were shot and killed by a gunman who had stated he wanted to kill white people, and specially members of law enforcement, President Obama issued yet another statement of condolence, adding to the list of what the Washington Post said were at least 15 different shooting-inspired speeches from the White House during Obama’s tenure.
Calling the slaughter a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” Obama focused his remarks on the guns used in the attack:
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“Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us,” he said. “We also know that when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead, we’re going to have to consider those realities as well.”
December 2012
Sandy Hook Elementary School
“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” Obama said at an evening prayer vigil after the slaughter of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “These tragedies must end.”
In a speech in the White House Briefing Room, Obama again addressed the role that firearms played in the latest tragedy:
“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Later, at the White House surrounded by victims of mass shootings, Obama recalled the Sandy Hook massacre.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said in 2016, as tears rolled down his face.
June 2015
Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Following the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at the church, Obama led an arena full of mourners in “Amazing Grace.” He also made a statement, which included this:
“Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellow ship and was murdered last night, and to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.
“Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.
“Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery.”
June 2016
Pulse Nightclub in Orlando
In his speech following the mass shooting, which at the time was the deadliest in American history,  Obama said:
“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
November 2017
Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas
After the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, President Obama said:
“We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover. May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.”
April 1999
Columbine High School in Colorado
After two students opened fire at Columbine, murdering 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves, President Clinton held a press conference that started with a long statement expressing his reaction, including these excerpts:
“I want to begin by saying that Hillary and I are profoundly shocked and saddened by the tragedy today in Littleton, where two students opened fire on their classmates before apparently turning their guns on themselves. I’ve asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education to stand ready to assist local law enforcement, the schools, the families, the entire community during this time of crisis and sorrow.
“A crisis response team is ready now to travel to Colorado, and I strongly believe that we should do whatever we can to get enough counselors to the families and the children as quickly as possible. I know the other communities that have been through this are also ready to do whatever they can to help.
“I think that Patricia Holloway would not mind if I said that, amidst all the turmoil and grief that she and others are experiencing, she said to me just a moment ago that perhaps now America would wake up to the dimensions of this challenge if it could happen in a place like Littleton, and we could prevent anything like this from happening again. We pray that she is right.
“We don’t know yet all the hows or whys of this tragedy. Perhaps we may never fully” understand it. Saint Paul reminds us that we all see things in this life through a glass darkly, that we only partly understand what is happening. We do know that we must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons. And we do know we have to do more to recognize the early warning signs that are sent before children act violently.
“To the families who have lost their loved ones, to the parents who have lost their beloved children, to the wounded children and their families, to the people of the community of Littleton, I can only say tonight that the prayers of the American people are with you.”
October 2017
Las Vegas Strip
Trump’s first response came with this tweet:

My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2017

This was followed the next day by a statement:
“We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss,’ Trump said of those who lost loved ones.
Shortly after Trump spoke, according to a CNN report, the White House released a proclamation ordering flags be flown at half-staff on federal buildings. In his remarks, he did not comment on the character of the shooter, only referring to the event as “an act of pure evil.”
When asked two days alter about gun laws, Trump said that the US will “be talking about gun laws as time goes by” in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, But he didn’t answer when reporters pressed him about whether the shooting was an act of “domestic terrorism.”

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The president also described the shooter as “a sick man, a demented man.” And more than two days after the incident, Trump again avoided talking about gun laws during a visit to Las Vegas on October 4. “We’re not going to talk about that today,” Trump told a reporter at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada trauma center. “We won’t talk about that.”
 

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