President Trump was accused of showing “shameful” disrespect for the victims of a 2015 series of terrorist attacks by suggesting the bloodshed, which left more than 130 dead, might have been prevented if the French carried guns.
In a statement, France’s Foreign Ministry expressed its “firm disapproval” of the president’s remarks and demanded “respect of the memory of the victims.”
“Each country can freely decide its own legislation on gun control. France is proud to be a country where the purchase and possession of firearms are strictly controlled,” the statement said. “The statistics on gun crime victims do not make us want to change this choice.”
The November 2015 attacks in Paris, carried out by militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State, killed more than 130 and injured hundreds. The coordinated attacks took place at a soccer stadium, several restaurants and during a concert at the Bataclan theater. It was the worst bloodshed in France since World War II.
In Trump’s address to the National Rifle Assn. in Dallas on Friday, in which he also claimed London was a knife-crime “war zone,” the president said: “Nobody has guns in Paris, and we all remember more than 130 people, plus tremendous numbers of people that were horribly, horribly wounded. You notice nobody ever talks about them.”
He spoke about the attack at the Bataclan concert hall, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing when a terrorist commando group armed with automatic weapons and wearing suicide vests killed nearly 90 people.
“If one employee or just one patron had a gun — or if one person in this room had been there with a gun, aimed at the opposite direction — the terrorists would have fled or been shot, and it would have been a whole different story,” Trump said.
He added: “They were brutally killed by a small group of terrorists that had guns. They took their time and gunned them down one by one.” Trump then mimicked the gunmen shooting, saying: “Boom. Come over here. Boom. Come over here. Boom.”
Trump’s comments came just a week after French President Emmanuel Macron visited Washington, where the two leaders seemed spirited and hailed a new “special relationship.”
Though Macron and the Elysee Palace refused to comment directly on Trump’s speech, former French President Francois Hollande and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls — in office at the time of the attacks — expressed outrage.
“The shameful comments and obscene antics of Donald Trump say a lot about what he thinks about France and her values,” Hollande wrote in a statement in French. “The friendship between our peoples will not be stained by this disrespect and outrageousness. My thoughts are all for the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks.”
“Indecent and incompetent. What more is there to say?” Valls tweeted.
Bernard Cazeneuve, who was the interior minister at the time of the attacks, tweeted: “Indignation and disgust after the statements made by Donald Trump about the November 13 attacks. Solidarity with the victims … the French are shocked. This transgression, it’s disrespect.”
Philippe Duperron, president of the survivors association 13onze15 (named for the date of the attack), told French television channel France 24 that victims were “outraged by this level of indecency.”
“Alas, no weapon would have altered the outcome because they were suicide bombers wearing explosive belts who were going to blow themselves up in the places they attacked,” Duperron said.
Willsher is a special correspondent.