President Donald Trump’s first public comments on the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting amounted to a bit of victim blaming, saying that the whole thing could have been avoided if the Tree of Life synagogue simply had an armed guard inside. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world,” Trump said.
“And something has to be done.”
The president didn’t quite specify what that “something” was and when a reporter asked whether it was time to revisit the country’s gun laws, Trump scoffed at the suggestion. “This has little to do with it if you take a look,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One heading to Indianapolis. “If they had protection inside,” Trump told reporters, “the results would have been far better. This is a dispute that will always exist, I suspect.” He then reiterated the point. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a very much different situation,” he added. “They didn’t and he was able to do things that unfortunately he shouldn’t have been able to do.”
The president praised law enforcement officers and almost seemed to be minimizing the situation by saying there is “violence all over the world” and there had been “so many incidents with churches.” When he was asked what could be done about these types of situations, Trump said the country needed to “stiffen up our laws in terms of the death penalty. When people do this they should get the death penalty.” He then complained justice is often too slow. “I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue,” he said. “Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church—we had so many incidents with churches—they should really suffer the ultimate price.”
Many were quick to criticize Trump for his comments. “His lack of empathy is just staggering,” wrote Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia. Some also pointed out that Trump suggested an armed guard could have prevented the whole situation even though the shooter injured several law enforcement officers. Michael Eisenberg, a past president of the synagogue, told reporters that “we’ve never had any threats.”
Earlier, Trump had written two tweets regarding the shooting. “Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!” Trump wrote. He followed that up with another message saying that the “events in Pittsburgh are far more devastating than originally thought.”
First Lady Melania Trump also commented on the shooting on Twitter and called for unity. “My heart breaks over the news out of #Pittsburgh,” she wrote. “The violence needs to stop. May God bless, guide & unite the United States of America.”