Trump in Vegas: ‘America is truly a nation in mourning’

Trump met with police officers and dispatchers who responded to the shooting

President Donald Trump talks as first lady Melania Trump and surgeon Dr. John Fildes listens at the University Medical Center after Trump met with survivors of the mass shooting Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Visiting bedsides and the base of police operations, President Donald Trump offered prayers and condolences Wednesday to the victims of Sunday night’s shooting massacre in Las Vegas along with praise and congratulations to first responders and doctors who rushed to save lives.

“America is truly a nation in mourning,” the president said, days after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fire on the crowd at an outdoor country music festival below. The rampage killed at least 59 people and injured 527, many from gunfire, others from chaotic efforts to escape.

“We cannot be defined by the evil that threatens us or the violence that incites such terror,” Trump declared at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police headquarters, reading from prepared remarks. “We are defined by our love, our caring and our courage.”

Trump and first lady Melania Trump met privately earlier with victims of the shooting at a hospital, praising them and the doctors who treated them as he visited the reeling city.

He also met with police officers, dispatchers and others who had responded to the shooting Sunday night, telling them: “You showed the world and the world is watching, and you showed what professionalism is all about.”

He waved off questions about the availability of firearms — the shooter had a veritable arsenal of weapons — saying this is not the time to discuss the possibility of further restrictions.

Trump’s first stop was the University Medical Center, where he spent 90 minutes meeting privately with victims, their families, and medical professionals.

He said he’d met “some of the most amazing people” — and had extended some invitations to visit him in Washington.

He also commended the doctors who’d worked to save them for doing an “indescribable” job.

“It makes you very proud to be an American when you see the job that they’ve done,” he said.

On his trip from the airport, the president’s motorcade drove past the Mandalay Bay hotel where the gunman fired down into the concert crowd. He also passed his own Trump hotel on his way toward the entertainment strip. Before leaving the White House, he had said, “It’s a very, very sad day for me personally.”

Until his final remarks, Trump focused his comments during the trip on praising recovery efforts rather than on grieving the dead.

At the last, however, he said slowly and somberly: “Our souls are stricken with grief for every American who lost a husband or a wife, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter. We know that your sorrow feels endless. We stand together to help you carry your pain. You are not alone. We will never leave your side.”

Trump’s trip to Las Vegas came just a day after his Tuesday flight to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico — a pair of back-to-back episodes that are testing his ability to unite and lift the nation in times of strife. Trump, a leader who excels at political provocation and prides himself on commanding strength, has sometimes struggled to project empathy.

During Tuesday’s trip, he highlighted Puerto Rico’s relatively low death toll compared with “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” when as many as 1,800 people died in 2005 as levees protecting New Orleans broke. He also pointed repeatedly to praise his administration had received for its efforts, despite criticism on the island of a sluggish response.

Trump has a long personal connection to Las Vegas — a city where his name is written in huge golden letters atop his hotel. He also campaigned extensively across Nevada during his presidential campaign, drawing large crowds to rallies along the Las Vegas strip.

Republicans who control Congress have made clear they have no intention of taking up gun control measures, such as tightening restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, in the shooting’s aftermath.

Trump, in a 2000 book, said that he supported a prohibition on assault weapons and a “slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” He also said in 2013 that he supported “background checks to weed out the sickos.”

But Trump ran his campaign with a strong pro-Second Amendment message and the backing of the National Rifle Association.

“Gun and magazine bans are a total failure,” read one campaign policy paper. “Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons,’ ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high capacity magazines’ to confuse people. What they’re really talking about are popular semi-automatic rifles and standard magazines that are owned by tens of millions of Americans.”

On Tuesday, Trump appeared somewhat open to having a debate on guns, but not anytime soon.

“At some point, perhaps, that will come,” he told reporters. “But that’s not for now.”

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed from Washington.