White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got emotional on Monday afternoon (Oct. 2) when recounting the heroic actions of survivors of Sunday night’s deadly shooting during the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. “Last night, thousands of our fellow citizens endured what the president has rightly called an act of pure evil in Las Vegas,” said Sanders during the afternoon briefing.
Her voice beginning to break, she continued, “The president has ordered our flags to half-staff and to further honor those lost in the attack we will hold a moment of silence on the South Lawn this afternoon at 2:45 Eastern this afternoon.” She noted that in his role as comforter-in-chief after traumatic events like this, Trump will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday to grieve with victims’ friends and family, visit with those recovering from their wounds and thank first responders.
The shooting spree by lone gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, perched in a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel across the street from the festival site, is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, with 58 confirmed dead at press time, along with more than 515 wounded. Huckabee Sanders read some accounts of those who engaged in heroic actions to save the lives of those around them. “What these people did for each other says far more about who we are as Americans than the cowardly acts of a killer ever could,” she said, nearly breaking into tears as she read a quote from the Gospel of John.
“[The Gospel of John] reminds us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend,” she said. “The memory of those who displayed the ultimate expression of love in the midst of an unimaginable act of hate will never fade. Their examples will serve as an eternal reminder that the American spirit cannot and will not ever be broken. In the days ahead we will grieve as a nation, we will honor the memory of those lost as a nation. And we will come together united as one nation under God and indivisable.”
Asked how Trump first responded to the news of the shooting, Huckabee Sanders said the president was briefed early in the morning by chief of staff Gen. John Kelly. “I have seen him today and I think he, like most of America, is saddened and certainly his heart and compassion goes out to those affected.” As to whether this massacre has spurred Trump to think about possibly tightening the nation’s gun laws, Huckabee Sanders said Monday was a day to console survivors and mourning those lost. “There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is a time to unite as a country,” she responded, adding that it would be “premature” to discuss policy before the open investigation into the incident is concluded.
Police said they found at least 10 rifles and ammunition inside the shooter’s hotel room, as well as additional firearms and ammunition in his home. At press time it was unknown how the resident of a retirement community with no known police record had amassed such a large cache of arms and whether they were legally purchased or somehow altered to make them more lethal.
Trump, who in 2015 wrote that he supported the ban on assault rifles as well as a “slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” was endorsed by the National Rifle Association during his presidential run and has frequently spoken out in support of protecting Second Amendment rights. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House,” Trump told an NRA gathering in April. “No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans. Instead, we will work with you, by your side.”
In July, Billboard wrote an “Open Letter to Congress” in response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which until Sunday night’s massacre was the most deadly gun-related mass shooting in U.S history. The letter, written with the help of leading gun-violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety, was signed by more than 200 artists and music executives in a plea to Congress to take two preliminary steps to stop the unrelenting toll of gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans every day while injuring hundreds more: require a background check for every gun sale and block suspected terrorists from buying guns.
One of Trump’s first actions as president was to repeal an Obama administration gun regulation that prevented certain individuals with mental health conditions from buying firearms. Though Trump called Sunday night’s shooting an “act of pure evil,” he did not mention guns at all in his statement and at present the Republican-led Congress is considering a law that would open the market for gun silencers, with the House possibly passing the legislation — which would reverse regulations put in place more than 80 years ago — as early as this week.
As reported in Newsweek, Nevada has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the nation, which don’t require firearm owners to have licenses, register their weapons, or have a limit on how many firearms an individual can possess. Automatic assault weapons and machine guns are legal in the state as long as they are registered and possessed in accordance with federal law and open carry is legal without a permit. Witnesses to Sunday’s shooting and social media accounts appear to show that Paddock used a high-caliber automatic weapon in his assault, with what sounds like rapid fire shots coming from his sniper’s perch in the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Watch Sanders’ press conference: