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During a televised meeting with lawmakers, President Donald Trump emphasized the importance of firearms as protection against mass shootings in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that killed 17. He compared an unarmed group to "sitting ducks," and referred to the June 2016 shooting at an Orlando nightclub.
"You take Pulse nightclub," he said Feb. 28. "If you had one person in that room that could carry a gun and knew how to use it, it wouldn’t have happened, or certainly to the extent that it did."
That didn’t sound right to us, so we did some digging. Turns out, Trump is wrong on how that attack unfolded.
On June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more in a shooting rampage at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Trump ignored the crucial fact that an armed, off-duty police officer in uniform was working security at the club that evening. Soon after the first shots rang out, officer Adam Gruler, a 15-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, exchanged gunfire with Mateen.
This isn’t the first time Trump has made this erroneous claim. Our friends at Factcheck.org flagged a similar statement after candidate Trump at a June 15, 2016 campaign rally — days after the Orlando shooting — bemoaned that there were "no guns on the other side."
Several days later Trump took to Twitter to clarify his statement after backlash from gun safety advocates and even the National Rifle Association, who said alcohol and guns don't mix.
When I said that if, within the Orlando club, you had some people with guns, I was obviously talking about additional guards or employees— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2016
"When I said that if, within the Orlando club, you had some people with guns, I was obviously talking about additional guards or employees," Trump tweeted June 20, 2016.
Trump’s latest statement on the Pulse shooting gives the impression clubgoers were defenseless, which was not the case. (The White House did not respond to our request for comment.)
The Justice Department in 2017 released a nearly 200-page report detailing the Orlando police response to the shooting. Here’s the report’s account of Gruler’s initial confrontation with Mateen:
"Outside, in the Pulse parking lot, (Gruler), who was working extra duty at the club — to provide outside security and to provide assistance to security personnel inside the club if needed — heard the shots that were being fired; at 2:02:17 a.m., he broadcast over the radio, 'Shots fired, shots fired, shots fired,' and requested additional officers to respond.
"The detective told the assessment team that he immediately recognized that his Sig Sauer P226 9mm handgun was no match for the .223 caliber rifle being fired inside the club and moved to a position that afforded him more cover in the parking lot. Two patrons attempted to flee through an emergency exit on the south side of the club. When the detective saw the suspect shoot them, he fired at the suspect."
According to an Orlando Police Department report, additional officers arrived on the scene about a minute after Gruler’s call for backup was broadcast. A second backup officer arrived about a minute after that.
At 2:05 a.m., Gruler advised that the suspect had an assault rifle (the gunman also carried a Glock 17 9mm handgun). Gruler again shot at Mateen, this time "firing three shots at the suspect as the sound of rapid fire gunshots were heard inside the club."
Mateen was ultimately shot and killed in a shootout after law enforcement, including SWAT team members, breached the building's wall. Some 300 local law enforcement officers responded to the scene during the three-hour standoff, according to the Orlando police report.
Gruler would later attend Trump’s State of the Union address on Jan. 30 as a guest of Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.
Talking about the Pulse nightclub shooting, Trump said, "If you had one person in that room that could carry a gun and knew how to use it, it wouldn’t have happened, or certainly to the extent that it did."
An armed, off-duty police officer in uniform was at the club during the shooting, and exchanged gunfire with the shooter, who managed to kill 49 people.
We rate this False.
PolitiFact Republican guest columnist former U.S. Rep. David Jolly says how politicians use and interpret true facts to influence their policy decisions is rightly a matter of their own personal judgment, for which they are ultimately held accountable by voters. But whether those politicians are actually offering facts or mere falsehoods in justifying their proposals is increasingly a matter for which fact-checking organizations are necessary to provide accountability in our political debates.
Justice Department report, Rescue, Response and Resilience, 2017
Tweet by Donald Trump, June 20, 2016
Kansas City Star, "Trump changes comment on guns in nightclub during Orlando massacre," June 20, 2016
City of Orlando government website, "Summary of events: Pulse Nightclub Shooting"
Palm Beach Post, "THE LATEST: NRA breaks silence on Orlando shooting," June 14, 2016
New York Times, "What Happened Inside the Orlando Nightclub"
CBS News, "Report reveals dramatic new details from Orlando nightclub massacre," April 14, 2017
Factcheck.org, "Orlando Club Had Armed Security," June 16, 2016
Orlando Sentinel, "Pulse first responder to be guest at State of the Union address," Jan. 27, 2018
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