Former US President Donald Trump said that the Washington government should prioritise funding for school security in the country rather than sending aid to the war-torn Ukraine.
Trump made the remarks on Friday at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) ongoing three-day annual convention in Houston, which comes just three days after the deadly shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.
Addressing thousands of supporters, the former President said: “We spent trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and got nothing for it. Before we nation-build the rest of the world, we should be building safe schools for our own children in our own nation.”
Trump also rejected calls for tightened gun controls, saying decent Americans should be allowed firearms to defend themselves against “evil”, the BBC reported.
He instead proposed a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of school safety, with fortified single points of entry including metal detectors and at least one armed police officer on every campus, and also accused Democrats of stonewalling such security measures.
The former President also read out the names of the Uvalde shooting victims, with each marked by a bell toll.
In his speech, Trump also called to “drastically change our approach to mental health”.
The annual convention of the NRA, the country’s most powerful gun lobby group, is taking place after a two-year Covid-induced hiatus.
In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have cancelled their in-person appearance at the convention, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Governor is expected to address the convention “through pre-recorded video”.
“While a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and an NRA member, I would not want my appearance today to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde,” Patrick said on Friday.
Meanwhile, protests have been planned against the event. Friday witnessed hundreds of protesters outside the convention venue holding signs saying “NRA kill kids”, “protect children not guns” and held crosses and photos of shooting victims.
In a statement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged participants to “remain peaceful out of respect to the families of the 19 children and two teachers killed in their classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde”.
The City of Houston is aware that several organisations have planned demonstrations near the convention centre, and the Houston Police Department and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have a public safety plan, Turner was quoted as saying in the statement.
The NRA convention is expected to draw 55,000 attendees, who are prohibited from bringing “firearms, firearm accessories, knives, and other items”, including backpacks and selfie sticks.
The gun lobby group, currently has over 5 million members.
The US has witnessed at least 212 mass shootings so far this year, according to the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive.
As of Tuesday when the Uvalde school shooting occurred, over 31,300 people have died or been injured due to gun-related incidents in the US this year.