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Donald Trump on Friday night accused gun control supporters of trying to "exploit the tears of sobbing families" during a controversial public appearance following the Uvalde school shooting.
The former US president was speaking at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Houston, Texas, just days after 19 children and two adults were shot dead around 300 miles away at Robb Elementary School.
The attack has given new impetus to calls for stricter firearms regulation, which Mr Trump has sought to portray as an act of political opportunism.
After holding a moment of silence for the "beautiful people" killed by what he described as an "out of control lunatic", Mr Trump said: "Sadly, before the sun had even set on the horrible day of tragedy, we witnessed a now familiar parade of cynical politicians seeking to exploit the tears of sobbing families to increase their own power and take away our constitutional rights.
"Every time a disturbed or demented person commits such a hideous crime, there's always a grotesque effort by some in our society to use the suffering of others to advance their own extreme political agenda.
"Even more repulsive is their rush to shift blame away from the villains who commit acts of mass violence and to place that blame onto the shoulders of millions of peaceful, law-abiding citizens who belong to organisations, such as our wonderful NRA."
Mr Trump then claimed the way to tackle the "contagion of school shootings" was to "drastically change our approach to mental health".
He continued: "There are always so many warning signs; almost all of these disfigured minds share the same profile."
Police: it was wrong that we waited an hour as massacre unfolded
Texas police admitted on Friday they made the wrong decision not to confront the Uvalde school shooter sooner as it emerged that children trapped inside were calling 911 to beg for help for almost an hour.
Law enforcement officials were accused of failing to follow standard procedure as roughly 20 officers waited in a hallway for nearly an hour as the massacre unfolded – and even turned away specially equipped agents who arrived to help.
After two days of unclear and contradictory accounts from police about the response to the rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, a Texas law enforcement official said in a press conference that an armed school district officer did not in fact encounter or exchange fire with the attacker before he entered the primary school, as previously claimed.
Police who arrived at the school retreated when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos shot at them, state authorities said.
Even when specially equipped federal border agents arrived local police would not allow them to go in, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile at least two children in the classrooms under assault called 911 multiple times, with one telling police in a whisper that there were many dead and that there were still "eight to nine" students alive.
An hour elapsed before a tactical unit led by the border agents went into a classroom and killed the gunman.
Videos from the minutes after the shooter entered the building show frantic parents being held back by police officers, in some cases even being handcuffed.
Ramos arrived at the school in Uvalde, a rural town between San Antonio and the Mexican border, at 11:33am and fired more than 100 rounds by the time seven police officers entered the building two minutes later. They were met with gunfire and receded.
Officials now say that the on-scene commander believed the attacker had stopped shooting and barricaded himself, Col Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS), said in a briefing on Friday.
With the benefit of hindsight it was clear there were still students inside and in danger, he said.
“Of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision, period,” an upset-looking Col McCraw told reporters.
The initial response appears to have diverged from guidance widely implemented since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which says officers should pursue shooters inside buildings without waiting for specialised backup.
According to the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s own policy manual “the first two to five responding officers should form a single team and enter the structure”.
Emergency response experts said quicker action may have limited the slaughter, or could have meant getting the injured lifesaving treatment before it was too late.
Police also revealed that Ramos was able to march into the school unobstructed through a door that had been propped open by a teacher before he fired more than 100 rounds in the attack.
It emerged that the teenage shooter had asked his older sister to buy him a gun a year before the attack, when he was 17.
The TDPS said 60 gun magazines were found at Robb Elementary and 315 spent rounds inside the classroom where 19 students and two teachers were shot dead.
It came as horrifying details emerged from survivors of the massacre.
One schoolgirl recalled how Ramos “backed the teacher into the classroom ... looked her right in the eye, and said ‘Goodnight’, and then shot her and killed her”.
Miah Cerrillo, 11, told how she smeared the blood of a classmate over her pretending to be dead in case the shooter re-entered her fourth grade classroom.
In a video, parents at what is apparently the rear of the school building, complain angrily that police are doing nothing as the country's worst school shooting in a decade unfolds.
Angeli Rose Gomez, whose children were inside, told The Wall Street Journal she was handcuffed by federal marshals after she and others pushed police to intervene.
And an off-duty Border Patrol agent, whose wife taught at the school and whose child attended it, rushed to the scene mid-haircut with a shotgun he borrowed from his barber after his wife texted him from a classroom: “There's an active shooter. Help.”
Jacob Albarado helped evacuate children and teachers, including his own eight-year-old daughter.
The manufacturer of the gun used in the shooting has pulled out of a National Rifle Association convention taking place just miles from Tuesday’s “horrifying tragedy”.
Organisers of the three-day event, being hosted in Houston, refused calls to cancel out of respect for the victims.
However, Governor Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to speak in person, said he would instead give a virtual address and would be holding a press conference from the grieving city of Uvalde some 280 miles away.
Protesters, including Democratic Texas governor hopeful Beto O’Rourke and leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, descended on Houston to demonstrate against the decision to go ahead.
“F** your freedom,” some shouted at attendants from behind a police cordon.
Sales nearing $100 million
Ramos purchased his rifles shortly after his 18th birthday from Daniel Defense, which said it would "cooperate with all federal, state and local law enforcement authorities in their investigations".
Daniel Defense is one of the largest privately held gun manufacturers in the country with sales nearing $100 million (£65million), according to Forbes.
In a statement on its website, the NRA – which has been instrumental in preventing the passage of stricter firearms regulations –- said the mass murder in Uvalde was "the act of a lone, deranged criminal."
Several musical performers who planned to appear at the convention have also withdrawn out of respect for the victims.