Trump visits Dayton, El Paso amid protests calling for gun control

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE on Wednesday met with first responders and survivors of a weekend shooting in Dayton, Ohio, steering clear of protests that formed in opposition to his visit and to demand stricter gun laws.

Trump spent more than an hour at Miami Valley Hospital meeting privately with medical personnel, victims and families affected by a shooting that killed nine people and wounded more than 20 others early Sunday morning.

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The hospital was Trump’s lone stop while in Dayton. He did not speak publicly and avoided the dozens of protesters who had gathered roughly a mile away near the site of the massacre. Additional demonstrators had gathered near the hospital, a mix of supporters and protesters.

Limited information was given in real time about his activities while in Dayton aside from tweets from White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamIvana Trump on Melania as first lady: 'She's very quiet, and she really doesn't go to too many places' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump uses White House as campaign backdrop Coronavirus tests not required for all Melania Trump speech attendees: report MORE.

"You had God watching. I want you to know we're with you all the way," Trump said at the hospital, according to Grisham.

Grisham later told reporters traveling with the president that the visit was never intended to be a photo op.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (D-Ohio) and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) joined the president during his visit and told reporters afterward that he and the first lady were "comforting" and "did the right things" while at the hospital.

Both officials said they urged Trump to support background checks, red flag laws and government programs that provide access to mental health resources. But they were ambivalent over whether their words would matter.

“Do I think that we’re going to see another mass shooting tomorrow or Friday?" Whaley said. "Probably, because Washington will not move.”

She added that she felt it was a "good decision" for Trump to avoid the protests near the site of the massacre.

The president arrived in Dayton on Wednesday morning and was set to visit El Paso, Texas, in the afternoon. The two cities were the sites of mass shootings over the weekend that left more than 30 dead and dozens wounded.

Officials and residents in both cities expressed reluctance prior to Trump’s arrival, questioning whether the president’s presence would prove too divisive for grieving communities. But Trump and his allies argued it was his role as president to offer comfort to those affected by the latest mass shootings and dismissed criticism over whether his rhetoric has contributed to violence.

Prior to arriving, Trump accused his opponents of "looking for political gain" by tying his comments about immigration to the shooting in Texas. He then raised reports that the Dayton gunman's Twitter page reflected support for Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's tax bombshell | More election drama in Pennsylvania | Trump makes up ground in new polls New Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins Biden calls Trump a 'liar' and a 'clown' at first debate Biden mocks Trump campaign debate claims: 'I've got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready' MORE (I-Vt.).

Tensions were on display in downtown Dayton. A "Baby Trump" balloon hovered behind demonstrators who carried signs that read "Dump Trump," "Flip the Senate" and "Welcome to Toledo," a jab at the president referencing the wrong Ohio city in remarks earlier this week.

A short distance away, supporters of the president flew a "Trump 2020" flag.

But the dominant message appearing on signs and heard in chants was "do something" as protesters and area officials implored lawmakers to enact stronger gun laws to prevent future shootings.

Darryl Fairchild, a city commissioner, published an open letter to the president ahead of his arrival urging Trump to press Congress on to enact gun laws and take executive action where necessary to promote safety.

"You can do something today," Fairchild wrote. "You can demand that Congress put legislation on your desk mandating universal background checks, limiting magazine sizes, and expanding 'red-flag laws.' You can announce this demand here in Dayton."

"We do not want to hear empty words," Fairchild wrote. "We want action! If you are not prepared to do something real, do not waste our time."

Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for Dayton that he was "all in favor" of legislation expanding background checks, and he has backed "red flag" laws that would allow law enforcement to obtain court orders to confiscate weapons from individuals deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

But Trump has in the past voiced support for background checks before reversing his position, and the president acknowledged that gun laws are a difficult area to find common ground.

"I have lot of influence with a lot of people, and I want to convince them to do the right thing," he said. "And I will tell you, we’ve made a lot of headway in the last three days."