Donald Trump has described the most recent US school shooting as a “savage and barbaric atrocity” but has criticised those who have called for stricter gun laws.
The former US president was a guest speaker at the convention in Houston of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group.
The convention was taking place just a few days after 19 children and two teachers were shot dead at a primary school in the city of Uvalde, Texas.
The school attack came 10 days after a shooting in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 people dead – the two tragedies being the latest in a long line of mass killings to intensify debate over gun laws.
Mr Trump said: “The terrible murder of 19 innocent children and two adult teachers, with many badly injured, was a savage and barbaric atrocity that shocks the conscience of every American, so horrible.”
He then called for a “brief moment of silence as I read the names of these beautiful people”, before he recited a list of the victims from Uvalde, each name followed by the chime of a bell.
But, like many of the convention’s other speakers, Mr Trump refused to see any connection between their deaths and the ease with which 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was able to access the AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle that killed them.
He criticised the “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” and the “grotesque effort by some in our society to use the suffering of others to advance their own extreme political agenda”.
He described 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”.
He added: “When (US president) Joe Biden blamed the gun lobby, he was talking about Americans like you. This rhetoric is highly divisive and dangerous and, most importantly, it’s wrong and has no place in our politics.”
Mr Trump also said it should be easier to confine “violent and mentally deranged” people in institutions, although Ramos had no criminal record or history of mental illness.
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He also pushed for the elimination of school gun-free zones, saying that these left victims with no way to defend themselves.
He said: “As the age-old saying goes, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”
As he spoke, about 500 protesters stood outside the hall, some holding placards and shouting: “NRA go away” and “shame, it could be your kids today”.