TOKYO -- President Trump said mental health, not guns, is to blame for the church shooting massacre that left at least 26 people dead in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, calling the assailant a "very deranged individual."
"Mental health is your problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn't a guns situation," President Trump said of the First Baptist Church shooting during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The president went on to say that it's a "little bit soon" to be talking about guns following the tragic event, and suggested that the death toll could have been higher had it not been for another armed individual who opened fire on the assailant, according to witnesses.
"Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction otherwise ... it would have been much worse," the president said. "This is a mental health problem at the highest level."
The president again offered his condolences over the shooting and pondered aloud about the horror that stuck the Sutherland Springs community. "Who would ever think a thing like this could happen?"
Prime Minister Abe also offered his sympathies to the United States over the shooting.
"I'd like to express my heart-felt solidarity to the people of the United States in this time of difficulty," Abe said, opening his remarks at the press conference with a reference to the shooting.
Trump earlier called the shooting an "act of evil" after a gunman stormed the church this morning, leaving at least 26 people dead and 20 other injured.
"This act of evil occurred as the victims and the families were in their place of sacred worship. We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel," Trump said before delivering remarks to U.S. and Japanese business leaders in Tokyo. "We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those who lost the ones they love. In dark times, and these are dark times, Americans do what they do best, we pull together. We join hands, we lock arms, and through the tears, and through the sadness we stand strong, oh so strong."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president continues to receive updates on the shooting, and has spoken to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"The president has been briefed several times and is continuing to receive regular updates on the tragic shooting in Texas. The President spoke with Gov. Abbott earlier this morning. We will keep you posted as we can share more details," Sanders said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends and families affected. May God comfort them all in this time of tragedy."
Gov. Abbott called it the largest mass shooting in Texas history.
Trump pledged his full support to the state of Texas and local authorities and praised the FBI and first responders.
"I have spoken just a few minutes ago with governor Abbott and we offer our thanks to the first responders, the FBI, all of the many people involved, both federal and otherwise," he said. "Ultimately they stopped the suspect and rendered immediate lifesaving aid to certain victims of the shooting. I will continue to follow the developments closely."
While the president said it was too soon to be talking about guns policy following the rampage in Texas, he was swift to talk about the need for extreme vetting in the wake of the New York City terrorist attack last week. The White House has defended the appropriateness of the president's call for stricter immigration protocols in the wake of that attack, even though it contrasted with the administration's hesitance to talk guns policy after the Las Vegas shooting last month, by saying that the president has long called for stricter immigrant vetting.
"The president has been talking about extreme vetting and the need for that for the purpose of protecting the citizens of this country long before he was a president. This isn't a new argument or position. And this wasn't new for the president to speak about it," Sanders said last week.
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