The shooting Saturday afternoon that killed 20 people and injured more than two dozen more at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, brought immediate reactions from the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail.
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Calls for a period of reflection before discussing politics, a familiar refrain for years in the wake of mass shootings, ceded to calls for increased gun control before all of the details of the attack were even known.
Many of the 2020 presidential candidates — 19 of 24 — were in Las Vegas for the AFSCME Convention as news of the shooting started to spread in the media.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a native of El Paso and a speaker at the convention, tweeted the shooting was “truly heartbreaking” before any news of injuries or deaths was even reported.
It was just minutes before all of the 20-plus candidates addressed the shooting, many initially on Twitter, and turned the conversation to increased gun control measures.
“We are in this unimaginably just distraught moment in this country, where we seem to be almost accepting this idea that these are going to be a regular occurrence,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told reporters a the AFSCME forum. “And so I have had enough of this, especially living in a community where gunshots are all too regular.”
“We have to in this election, we have to have leaders are willing to stand up and say, I’m not going to let this issue be be determined by what the interests of the corporate gun lobby are,” he added.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted at a similar reluctance of conservative politicians to stand up to the gun lobby, and the face of gun rights, the National Rifle Association.
“Countless tragedies all because the gun lobby has certain ‘leaders’ more scared of losing support than losing loved ones,” he said on Twitter. “Enough empty words. These families deserve action.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg focused his comments at the forum on gun control and the growing threat of white nationalism. The suspect in the El Paso shooting expressed a desire to kill as many Mexicans as possible after being arrested, two law enforcement officials told ABC News.
“America is under attack from homegrown white nationalist terrorism,” Buttigieg said. “And we have to talk and act about two things in this country. First of all, we are the only country in the world with more guns than we have people. We can respect the Second Amendment and not allow it to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans, and two, white nationalism is evil.”
Several candidates were critical of President Donald Trump for not doing more to create real gun reform in the U.S.
“Well, his responsibility is to do what the American people are would like him to do, and that is to support the common sense gun safety legislation, that the overwhelming majority the American people support,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said. “That’s not hard.”
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney said “a lot can be done through executive action” in response to increasing gun protections.
Trump responded to the tragedy via Twitter, saying, “Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”
Joe Biden, one of the president’s most persistent targets of criticism, said he’d reached out to O’Rourke about the shooting and challenged the NRA’s honesty.
“Folks, even the NRA members know better,” Biden said late Friday. “Even the NRA members know we need universal background checks, the majority of them.”
“This is not just about what policy works better,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “This is about a power of an outside group, and people who are too afraid to act. And it’s not just about mass shootings, it’s about every single day in America, in neighborhoods across the country.”
Most of the other candidates either weighed in from the stage in Las Vegas or tweeted about the shooting and what can be done legislatively to stop these massacres.
“My heart goes out to the families and individuals impacted by the El Paso shooting,” Andrew Yang wrote on Twitter. “We owe them and all Americans common sense gun safety laws. Other societies respond to senseless tragedies — we must do the same. We are better than this.”
“We haven’t been able to put an end to these horrific shootings,” said John Hickenlooper, who was governor of Colorado during the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. “This should make every American furious.”
“We can start with requiring universal background checks and licensing and limiting high-capacity magazines,” he continued. “No one should be cowed by the NRA ever again.”
“Far too many communities have suffered through tragedies like this already,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote on Twitter. “We must act now to end our country’s gun violence epidemic.”
O’Rourke cancelled an appearance at California’s San Quentin State Prison and returned to El Paso Saturday evening, where he visited University Medical Center.
ABC News’ Jeff Cook, Zohreen Shah, Sasha Pezenik, Molly Nagle, Cheyenne Haslett and Matthew Vann contributed to this report.