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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday condemned the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history as an "act of pure evil" and said the nation was "joined together in sadness, shock and grief" after more than 50 people were gunned down in Las Vegas.
He said he would be going to Las Vegas on Wednesday "on a very, very sad moment for me ... for everybody no matter where you are, no matter what your thought process."
Speaking slowly and somberly from the White House, Trump declared that the nation would rally together in the face of the latest act of senseless violence.
"Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence," the president said. "We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family, and our shared values. We call upon the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community, and the comfort of our common humanity."
In the measured statement, Trump did not describe the gunman in any way or suggest any possible motivation or affiliation. He praised the first responders who he said prevented further loss of life and said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday. He offered condolences to the families of those killed, saying "We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss."
"We are praying for you," he said. "We are here for you."
He also ordered that the American flag at the White House and at all public buildings across the nation be flown at half-staff.
Trump spoke hours after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a Vegas Strip casino unleashed a hail of bullets on an outdoor country music festival below. The gunman killed at least 50 people as tens of thousands of concertgoers screamed and ran for their lives.
More than 400 other victims were taken to hospitals, and investigators spent Monday morning combing the debris-strewn concert site along the iconic Vegas Strip.
Trump, who quoted from Scripture and invoked God several times, said he prays for the day when the "innocent are safe from hatred and from fear."
"At times such as these I know we are searching for some type of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers will not come easy," the president said.
Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who used mass shootings to call for stricter gun control measures, Trump made no mention of firearms restrictions on Monday. But in the hours after the Las Vegas shooting, the familiar gun control debate emerged, once again breaking down along party lines.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said it was time for Congress to end its inaction that followed other major incidents, including the one in Orlando and the 2012 school shooting in his home state. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, an Iraq War vet, said he would not participate in a moment of silence for those lost because it "becomes an excuse for inaction."
Other leading Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, also called for stricter gun control laws while Republicans largely ignored the subject. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered sympathetic tweets for those lost but made no mention of guns.
During the presidential campaign, Trump cast himself as an ardent protector of the Second Amendment and proclaimed that if more "good guys" were armed with firearms there would be fewer gun tragedies. After the Orlando nightclub shooting last year, he suggested that if the club were not a gun-free zone, someone would have been able to stop the bloodshed.
"I was obviously talking about additional guards or employees," he tweeted later.
Trump has long offered strong support for gun rights. He told the National Rifle Association this year that it had a "true friend" in the White House and signed a resolution passed by the GOP-led Congress blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.
Trump has long-standing connections to Las Vegas. He owns a hotel just off the strip, about three miles from the shooting site, and has been supported by some of its biggest casino moguls, including Phil Ruffin and Sheldon Adelson.
SWAT teams using explosives stormed the gunman's room in the Mandalay Bay hotel and found he had killed himself, authorities said. He had as many as 10 guns with him, including rifles, they said. The gunman was identified as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada. He had checked into the hotel room on Thursday, authorities said.
Since Trump's inauguration, there have been other mass shootings, including one in Texas last month, when a gunman killed eight and was fatally shot by police. But the Las Vegas attack is the deadliest in U.S. history.
The president offered a somber response in June, after a shooting at a shooting at a congressional baseball practice that wounded five, including seriously injuring Rep. Steve Scalise. But Trump has drawn criticism for more inflammatory and self-referential reactions to other acts of violence.
After a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead in 2016, he tweeted, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism." In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London in June, Trump targeted the city's mayor on Twitter, suggesting he wasn't taking the attacks seriously enough.
After the June 2016 Orlando shooting, Trump — a presidential candidate competing in the GOP primary — called for a travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was born in New York to Afghan immigrants. After becoming radicalized online, he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State group.
"The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here," Trump said.
And he drew sharp bipartisan criticism in August when he suggested there was blame "on both sides" during a violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators that left one person dead.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed reporting.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Lucey at http://twitter.com/@Catherine_Lucey
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