President Donald Trump says tougher gun laws would not have prevented a mass shooting at a south Texas church, arguing that more restrictions might have led to more casualties.
Trump spoke at a news conference in South Korea Tuesday where he was asked about "extreme vetting" for gun purchases. Trump said: "If you did what you're suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago and you might not have had that very brave person who happens to have a gun or a rifle in his trunk."
As he did following last month's Las Vegas massacre of 58 people, Trump pushed back against the question, calling it a "situation that probably shouldn't be discussed too much" and noted that he was "in the heart of South Korea."
Trump added that if the good Samaritan didn't have a gun, "instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead."
Authorities say Devin Patrick Kelley fired at least 450 rounds of ammunition at worshippers in Sunday's attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. The dead ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old.
Asked about Trump's comments Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety official Freeman Martin said he didn't want to speculate about whether gun laws would have caused more deaths.
And when House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked if had ideas on legislation that could stop mass shootings, he pointed to the fact that Kelley should have had a red flag on his record because of a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force, which failed to enter a conviction for domestic violence into a national gun database.
"How about enforcing the laws we’ve got on the books," Ryan said. "This man should not have gotten a gun. You know why? Because he was a domestic abuser."
Trump's more muted response to gun violence contrasts with his swift call for legislative and military action following the Oct. 31 truck attack in New York City. Within hours of a rental truck ramming through a crowded bicycle path and into a school bus, Trump called for Congress to "immediately" repeal the diversity visa lottery program that suspect Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbekistan citizen, used to enter the country in 2010.
After the Las Vegas shooting, Trump and aides said it was inappropriate to consider a policy response while people were still grieving. Despite days later suggesting openness to outlawing the bump stock device that allowed Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock to fire at near-automatic rates, the Trump administration has shown no signs of urgency.
Trump, who supported gun control before reversing his position to enter the Republican presidential primary, courted the National Rifle Association's endorsement in 2016, and earlier this year became the first president in three decades to speak at the gun group's annual convention.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.