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Candidates React to Orlando Shooting as Generals Call for Gun Control

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. AP
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. AP

The U.S. presidential candidates offered different responses to Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, while one joined with some retired military generals in calling for more gun control.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump put the massacre front and center in his campaign by reiterating his call to keep Muslims out of the U.S., while Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and the longshot Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson said the killings shouldn't be politicized as investigators work to get all the facts.

Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent and still officially a candidate for the Democrat Party, called the killings further evidence of the need to regulate semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 used by the gunman, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, and whose parents were of Afghan origin.

Mateen killed 49 individuals and injured 53 others in the rampage before he was shot and killed by police, authorities said.

Speaking to supporters in New Hampshire on Monday, Trump said "radical Islam" has arrived on American shores and that if Clinton is elected she would continue an immigration policy that would result in more attacks.

"What I want is a common sense," Trump said. "I want a mainstream immigration policy that promotes American values … designed to benefit America." He said Clinton would continue an "incompetent" policy "designed to benefit politically correct special interests."

During his speech, Trump warned that thousands of refugees slated to be relocated to the U.S. after fleeing the civil war in Syria represent a potential threat, and he reiterated his demand that no Muslims be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. without stronger background checks.

Speaking earlier in the day in Cleveland, Clinton said that in the aftermath of the deadliest shooting in American history and the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. needs unity.

"President Bush went to a Muslim community center just six days after the attacks to send a message of unity and solidarity," Clinton recalled. "To anyone who wanted to take out their anger on our Muslim neighbors and fellow citizens, he said, 'That should not, and that will not, stand in America.'

"It is time to get back to the spirit of those days," Clinton said.

Johnson, meanwhile, called the killings "clearly a tragic and despicable attack.

"Regardless of what the motivation is ultimately found to be, this violence against innocent people simply going about their lives is both cowardly and infuriating," he said. "We must allow the authorities to do their jobs, understand how this attack came about, and then respond accordingly. It is not a time to either politicize or jump to conclusions."

Sanders the Orlando killings is further evidence of the need to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles such as the type used by Mateen.

In an interview Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet The Press" television program, Sanders didn't address Mateen's reported ISIS sympathies.

"I've got to tell you, for 25 years now, I've believed that we should not be selling automatic weapons which are designed to kill people," he said. "We've got to do everything we can on top of that to make sure that guns do not fall into the hands of people who should not have them -- criminals and people who are mentally ill -- so that struggle continues."

Just days before the Orlando shooting, a group of 23 former military and intelligence veterans who belong to a group called the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense called on lawmakers "to close the loopholes in our background check laws that let felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill buy guns without a criminal background check."

The organization's members include retired NASA astronaut Navy Capt. Scott Kelly, whose wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot and seriously injured by a gunman in 2011; retired Army Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal; retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who also led the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency; and retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

The group also said it is focused on strengthening existing laws and making sure "lawmakers and stakeholders have the resources and training they need to prevent gun tragedies" and "partnering with other groups in the veterans' community on suicide prevention and mental health."

Offering his own take on the Orlando killings during an interview Sunday on Fox News, Petraeus said it's time to get back to the "very clear, basic principles" to which the U.S. has always adhered.

"We have been an inclusive society," he said. "We have welcomed immigrants from around the world. Certainly, you should do the background checks. Certainly, you should safeguard against individuals who wish us ill will and also, by the way, safeguard against the extremist thinking that has been behind some of these attacks, it's quite apparent.

"But we don't do that by being exclusive, or by hate speech or other types of responses," he added. "I think you do that by pulling together."

Separately, the U.S. Army's top officer has said he opposes letting soldiers carry their own concealed firearms on U.S. military installations.

"I've been around guns all my life," Gen. Mark Milley said during an April 7 hearing on Capitol Hill. "I know how to use them. And arming our people on our military bases and allowing them to carry concealed privately owned weapons -- I do not recommend that as a course of action."

His comments came during an April 7 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, who asked about letting troops carry firearms at military installations abroad.

Congress last year approved language in the annual defense authorization bill to let commanders authorize more troops -- not just military police -- to carry guns on a military installation, reserve center, recruiting station or defense facility in the U.S. as a force-protection measure.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at@BryantJordan.

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