SEOUL — President Trump said on Tuesday that stricter gun laws would not have prevented the shooting in a Texas church that killed 26 people and that they could have driven the death toll into the hundreds, since the gunman was shot by an armed bystander.
Trump was asked during a joint news conference with the president of South Korea whether he would support “extreme vetting” of gun buyers, comparable to the vetting his administration has sought to impose on visitors from some predominantly Muslim countries.
“If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago,” the president replied, “and 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.”
“If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead,” Trump said.
Trump did not address the fact that the US Air Force has said it should have entered the assailant, Devin P. Kelley, into a federal database after he was court-martialed on domestic violence charges years ago. That would have prohibited him from legally buying the military-style rifle he used to kill 26 parishioners on Sunday inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Kelley was shot twice by the armed bystander after he walked out of the church, having finished his killing spree inside. He might have continued his attack elsewhere, but the entire town of Sutherland Springs only has about 600 people.
Instead, a wounded Kelley led the bystander and another man on a dramatic car chase that ended in a crash. He was found dead in his car of what the police said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The carnage in Texas has overshadowed Trump’s trip to Asia, and his response to questions about it has hardened as the questions have kept coming. On Monday in Tokyo, he described the gunman as a “very deranged individual,” saying, “I think that mental health is your problem here.”
In Seoul, standing next to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Trump, as he has before, invoked street violence in Chicago as a reason to be suspicious of tighter gun regulations.
“The city with the strongest gun laws in our nation is Chicago,” he said, “and Chicago is a disaster. It’s a total disaster.”