President Trump said Tuesday that new gun laws would have made “no difference” in preventing the massacre at a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 people dead.
Trump was asked during a press conference in South Korea about his recent comments calling for “extreme vetting” immediately following the New York City terror attack, and whether he would favor similar scrutiny for those looking to purchase firearms.
“If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago,” Trump said, before turning to praise the actions of a bystander who engaged the shooter following his rampage. “You might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck, go out and shoot him and hit him and neutralize him.”
The president added, “I can only say this. If [the neighbor] didn’t have a gun, instead of 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead. So that’s the way I feel about it, not going to help.”
The suspected shooter, Devin Kelley, 26, served in the Air Force but was court martialed in 2012 on charges of assault and aggravated assault on his spouse and a child. Authorities said Monday that his gun purchases were allowed because there was no prohibited info in the federal background check system, the Air Force has since acknowledged it did not report Kelley’s convictions to the FBI.
The president was briefed on developments in the shooting while in Japan, and said soon after that it should be credited to a “mental health problem” and not U.S. gun laws.
He and the White House urged restraint in jumping to conclusions similar to the reaction following the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October. The White House later said the president would be willing to work with Congress on potentially regulating the “bump stock” device used by the shooter to increase his rate of fire, though those efforts have seemed to fade in recent weeks.
The president’s response to the Texas mass shooting has been compared with his reaction to the terror attack in New York City just last Tuesday, where he waited only hours before stating he had directed the Department of Homeland Security to institute strict vetting procedures and called for Congress to change immigration policy.