Donald Trump has insisted if the those attending a Jewish baby-naming ceremony in Pittsburgh had been carrying guns then they might not have been killed by a lone gunman armed with an automatic rifle shouting “all Jews must die”.
The President was talking to reporters just hours after at least eleven people were killed and at least six others wounded, including four police officers, at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime, authorities have said.
“It’s a very horrific crime scene, one of the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been on some plane crashes,” the city’s public safety director Wendell Hissrich told a news conference.
Speaking to reporters on his way to Indiana, Trump said the shooting had little to do with gun laws and the killings might have been prevented if there was an armed guard inside the building.
He said: “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a very much different situation
“They didn’t and he was able to do things that unfortunately he shouldn’t have been able to do.”
The shooting occurred during Sabbath religious services on Saturday, and a suspect was in custody in a possible hate crime, local authorities and media reported.
Many commentators took issue with Trump’s comments with former Pentagon staffer, Adam Blickstein asking: ”Is Trump blaming... the Jews?”
And Labour’s Stella Creasey expressed shock at the comments.
Trump also said the United States should harden laws on the death penalty. “I think one thing we should do is we would stiffen up our laws with guns with the death penalty,” Trump said. “When people do this they should get the death penalty.”
A “bearded heavy-set white male” was in custody, KDKA television said, citing police sources saying the gunman walked into the building and yelled “All Jews must die.”
He has been named as Robert Bowers who is “in his 40s”, according to local police.
Bowers’ profile on Gab, a social media platform popular among neo-Nazis, shows a post made shortly before the shooting blaming a refugee NGO for bringing “invaders in that kill our people”.
He added: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.
“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
The shooting triggered security alerts at houses of worship around the country, and follows a spate of pipe bombs found mailed in recent days to prominent political figures, mostly Democrats including former President Barack Obama and the offices of CNN.
Trump’s response was to blame the media for causing a “very big part of the anger we see today in our society”.
He did not acknowledge that all the targets were people and organisations he’s verbally attacked throughout his presidency or that the man arrested on suspicion of sending the bombs drove a van covered in Trump stickers.
Earlier this year after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left 17 dead, Trump said teachers carrying concealed guns could stop attacks.