Republican politicians who accepted millions in campaign funds from America’s most powerful pro-gun group have been condemned after posting messages of condolences over the Florida high school shooting.
At least 17 people were killed and 14 injured after a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on Wednesday afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It is one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
A suspect, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, was arrested after a brief manhunt.
Donald Trump, who faced criticism for failing to make a public appearance condemning the shooting, as other presidents have done, instead took to Twitter to offer his “prayers and condolences” to the families of the victims.
But Bess Kalb, a writer for US talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, pointed out the US President had accepted at least $21m (£15m) towards his presidential campaign from the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organisation which opposes any form of gun control.
My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2018
Marco Rubio, Republican senator for Florida, said the tragedy was a “terrible day you pray never comes”, and described the attack as “designed and executed to maximise loss of life”.
Ms Kalb responded by posting the total amount of funding she said he had received from the NRA. “$3,303,355.00,” she wrote on Twitter.
The comedian continued to reply to Republican lawmakers who had shared messages of regret about the shooting.
Republican politicians who received NRA money
Marco Rubio: ‘Today is that terrible day you pray never comes’ – $3,303,355 reportedly accepted from NRA
Cory Gardner: ‘I am heartbroken for the students… in this horrible tragedy’ – $3,879,064
Rob Portman: ‘Heartbreaking news out of Florida. Jane and I send our prayers’ – $3,061,941
Bill Cassidy: ‘Praying for the students, teachers and first responders’ – $2,861,047
Thom Tillis: ‘Tragic news out of Florida. Please keep the victims… in your thoughts and prayers’ – $4,418,012
Ken Buck: ‘Praying today for the students and all those impacted’ – $800,544
Ms Kalb said Senator Cory Gardner, who claimed he was “heartbroken” by the “horrible tragedy”, had received $3,879,064 from the NRA.
I am heartbroken for the students & family of those involved in this horrible tragedy & I’m praying for our first responders as they act swiftly to contain the situation. https://t.co/rCn5lFYhHP
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) February 14, 2018
Thom Tillis, a Republican Senator who urged people to keep victims of the shooting in “your thoughts and prayers”, accepted more than $4m from the group in campaign funding, she said.
Senator Rob Portman sent his “prayers to the school, the community, and the victims of this tragedy”. The NRA is said to have handed him more than $3m.
Despite it being the 18th shooting of the year in or around school premises in the US, gun control activists have little hope politicians will act to tighten laws.
Despite numerous polls showing widespread support for strengthening background checks and banning certain types of military assault rifles, including the one used in the latest mass shooting, there has been almost no legislative action in decades.
Critics say one of the biggest reasons for the status quo remains the NRA’s financial support for Republicans, and the political engagement of its more than five million members. It has an annual budget of roughly $250m, much of which is spent on lobbying against gun restrictions.
By Thursday morning, as has become traditional for the organisation, the NRA had fallen silent over the shooting. Its social media accounts remained dormant, while its website continued to promote a TV show warning members about the “lying media”.
The NRA Twitter account’s last move was to “like” a Valentine’s Day image professing love for assault rifles. It was posted by a firearms company around 30 minutes before the Florida shooting started.
The weapon used in the Florida shooting, an AR-15 assault rifle, was initially banned in 1994, but reintroduced after Congress failed to renew the Assault Weapons Ban legislation in 2004.
A similar firearm was also used by the Las Vegas gunman, whose modifications allowed it to shoot like a fully automatic rifle. The Pulse nightclub shooter used a gun in the same style to kill 49 people in Orland, while it was also used in the San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, and Colorado cinema shootings.
Despite the school being warned Mr Cruz posed a potential danger, the former student, who was expelled for “disciplinary reasons”, was allegedly able to walk onto campus with an assault rifle and “countless magazines”.
Police said Mr Cruz began spraying bullets into the high school hallway. Florida senator Bill Nelson said the shooter wore a gas mask and carried smoke grenades.
One social media user from Florida issued a warning for schools up and down the country in the wake of the tragedy. Pointing out Parkland is one of the wealthiest and safest cities in the state, he said: “If schools in Parkland aren’t safe, no school is safe.”
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