President Donald Trump on Saturday stated that the mass shooting at a Pennsylvania synagogue had “little to do” with gun control laws, suggesting the “results would have been far better” if there had been “protection inside.”
“This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside ... they would have been able to stop them,” Trump told reporters before departing for the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis.
“Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly,” he added, referring to the shooter.
A gunman shot three police officers when he opened fire at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as Saturday services began around 9:45 a.m. Eastern time and killed 11 people, injuring six others.
Congregants at the synagogue, located in the historically Jewish Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, had been observing a baby-naming ceremony.
Trump demurred when asked whether he thought he could do anything to prevent future mass shootings.
“The world is a violent world,” the president said.
“Before I ran for office, I’d watch instances like this with churches and other things, I’d say, ‘What a shame, what a shame,’” he said, adding that “it’s even tougher when you’re the president of the United States and you have to watch this kind of a thing happen.”
Trump told reporters he is “always” in contact with the National Rifle Association, one of the largest opponents of gun law reform.
Bowers will be charged with a hate crime under federal law, Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed Saturday afternoon.
Referencing the shooter, Trump also said lawmakers should “stiffen up” death penalty laws and bring capital punishment “into vogue.”
“When people do this, they should get the death penalty and shouldn’t have to wait years and years,” he said. “Now the lawyers will get involved, and everybody’s going to get involved, and we’ll be 10 years down the line. I think they should stiffen up laws, and I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue.”
Vice President Mike Pence reiterated Trump’s call for the death penalty at a Nevada campaign rally.
The president ― a staunch supporter of the death penalty ― infamously took out full-page newspaper ads in 1989 reading “Bring Back The Death Penalty” to comment on a group of teens known as the Central Park Five. The teens were wrongfully convicted of attacking a jogger.
Trump has also pushed for the use of armed guards as an effective deterrent to mass shooters, going so far as to suggest some teachers be armed in schools. Research suggests more guns is not the solution, as many mass shooters do not expect to survive their shootings.
The president’s remarks stood in sharp contrast to those made by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who issued a statement calling for action to prevent future mass shootings.
“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way,” Wolf said.
“And in the aftermath of this tragedy, we must come together and take action to prevent these tragedies in the future. We cannot accept this violence as normal,” he added.
Former President Barack Obama also called for action, writing on Twitter, “We have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun.”
Several news outlets have identified the gunman as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, who is currently receiving medical treatment for multiple gunshot wounds.
He appears to be strongly anti-Semitic. Law enforcement sources told KDKA that Bowers walked into the synagogue and yelled, “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.
The gunman had an assault-style rifle and at least three handguns with him at the synagogue, according to Bob Jones, the FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office.
Jones, a 22-year veteran of the FBI, said the synagogue was “the most horrific crime scene” he’d ever seen on the job.
Trump once again condemned the attack as he addressed the Future Farmers of America convention in Indiana.
“You won’t think this would be possible in this day and age, but we just don’t seem to learn from the past,” Trump said. “Our minds can’t comprehend the cruel hate and twisted malice that could cause a person to unleash such terrible violence during a baby-naming ceremony.”
He continued: “There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America or for any form of religious or racial hatred or prejudice.”
While the president is not Jewish, his daughter Ivanka Trump converted to Orthodox Judaism before marrying her husband, Jared Kushner.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Trump and details about the shooting.