President Trump's long-delayed visit to Britain to meet Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled for July 13. Meanwhile, it was only last month he had warmly received French President Emmanuel Macron in Washington.
But despite the outward appearance of warm ties with Britain and France, traditionally two of the United States' strongest European allies, Trump managed to stoke outrage and anger in both London and Paris this weekend — and he did so with a single speech.
Addressing the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Friday, the president cited the rising number of knife attacks in Britain while speaking in support of gun rights in the United States.
“I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital — right in the middle — is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds,” Trump said about halfway through his 50-minute speech. “Yes, that’s right, they don’t have guns. They have knives, and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital. They say it’s as bad as a military war zone hospital.”
“Knives, knives, knives,” Trump added as he made a stabbing motion.
“London hasn’t been used to that. They’re getting used to it. Pretty tough,” Trump said. “We’re here today because we recognize a simple fact — the one thing that has always stood between the American people and the elimination of our Second Amendment rights has been conservatives in Congress willing to fight for those rights. We’re fighting.”
Trump's comments immediately drew a backlash from Londoners on social media. Charlie Falconer, a lawyer and representative of the left-wing Labour Party in the House of Lords, favorably compared Britain's murder rate to the U.S. rate and added: “Trump lies on everything.”
In the same speech, Trump also took aim at France's strict gun laws — describing them as the “toughest gun laws in the world.” Trump then told the NRA audience said that as “nobody has guns in Paris” and that terrorists were able to take their time to kill civilians “one by one” in a November 2015 terrorist attack that left 130 dead.
“Come over here. Boom!” he repeated twice, while mimicking someone firing rounds from a gun. “The survivors said it just lasted forever,” Trump added, before suggesting that just one person with a gun could have stopped the attack. “If one person in this room had been there with a gun,” he told the NRA audience in Dallas, which had not been allowed to bring guns into the venue for security reasons, “the terrorists would have fled or been shot.”
On Twitter, one French survivor of that attack wrote a vulgar message in response to Trump's remarks, while former French president François Hollande called the comments “shameful” and “obscene.”
The French Foreign Ministry released a statement on Saturday that expressed its “firm disapproval” of Trump's remarks about the attack and called “for respect for the memory of the victims.” Gérard Araud, the French ambassador in Washington, highlighted one passage in the statement that said statistics on gun crime supported France's current laws.
Trump last visited Paris in July 2017; he is due to visit London for the first time as president later this summer. His visit to Britain has been a controversial topic and is widely thought to have been delayed because of the threat of protests.
While Britain's murder rate is indeed far lower than the United States', there has been anxiety in the British capital recently over a wave of knife attacks that have left some young men dead. A number of British news outlets reported last month that the murder rate in London had overtaken New York City's in February and March of this year — with 31 of the 47 murders in London at that point in 2018 committed with knives.
However, the comparison is less revealing that it may seem: New York City has experienced a dramatic drop in murders over the past decade, and its murder rate is now at a historic low. A spokeswoman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Reuters last month that while he was concerned about violent crime, “our city remains one of the safest in the world.”
It was unclear to what hospital in London the president was referring when he spoke Friday. In the past, some have cast doubt on the anecdotes he has used to tell disparaging stories about European capitals. For example, the identity of his friend “Jim,” a wealthy American who apparently refuses to travel to Paris because of crime fears -- and of whom the U.S. president has spoken several times -- remains a mystery.
Some British journalists suspect that in his anecdote about the hospital, Trump may have been referring to an interview with Mark Griffiths, the lead surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, that aired on the BBC on Thursday. The interview with Griffiths was subsequently written up by the British tabloid the Daily Mail and the U.S.-based website Breitbart.
In his interview, Griffiths suggested that colleagues at the hospital had compared their work with victims of knife and gun crime to previous experience at Camp Bastion, a former British military base in Afghanistan. “Some of my military colleagues have described the practice here as similar to being at Bastion, which is a very worrying comment to hear,” Griffiths said.
On Twitter, Griffiths responded to Trump's comments by suggesting that the U.S. president had missed the point and extending an invitation to him to visit the hospital he was talking about, Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London.
In a statement, Karim Brohi, director of London's major trauma system and a trauma surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, said that his hospital had “cut the number of our young patients returning after further knife attacks from 45 percent to 1 percent” and noted that “gunshot wounds are at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair.”
There was also anger from families affected by knife and gun crime. One woman, whose 20-year-old daughter was shot dead in 2003, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that she was “horrified and offended” by Trump's comments and that since he made the remarks on Friday she had received a number of phone calls from other families affected by knife and gun violence who felt the same.
Trump has family ties to Scotland and has spoken warmly of his hopes to visit Britain as president. He has faced widespread criticism in the British capital for comments he made about Khan, the London mayor, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack last year and for retweeting anti-Muslim messages from a far-right activist a few months later.
Though Trump does have some vocal admirers in Britain, the majority of the country views him negatively — a poll conducted earlier this year found just 1 in 10 Britons thought he was a good or great president and that 67 percent of the country said that he had been “poor” or “terrible.”
And despite his brief praise for “great guy” Macron during his speech on Friday, polls from France suggest a similar view of Trump in that country: One survey conducted in November found that 68 percent of the country said they had a negative view of the U.S. president.
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