President Barack Obama and Democrats quickly condemned comments made Friday by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who said that there isn't always a useful government solution to mass shootings and other crises because "stuff happens."
Speaking at an event in Greenville, S.C., Bush's comment came in the midst of expansive answers about the Second Amendment and how people respond to school shootings.
"We're in a difficult time in our country and I don't think that more government is necessarily the answer to this," he said. "I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It's just, it's very sad to see. But I resist the notion — and I did, I had this, this challenge as governor, because we have, look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."
Bush was speaking at a forum hosted by the Conservative Leadership Project, a group with ties to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who moderated the event. His comments came the day after a shooter at an Oregon community college killed nine before being killed by police. Several others are recovering from injuries.
When a reporter asked Bush whether the remark was a mistake, he replied: "No, it wasn't a mistake, I said exactly what I said, explain to me what I said wrong."
"You said 'stuff happens,' " the reporter said.
"Things happen all the time," Bush said. "Things — is that better?"
He later elaborated: "Things happen all the time. A child drowns in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around a pool. . . . The cumulative effect of this is that in some cases, you don't solve the problem by passing the law and you're imposing on large numbers of people burdens that make it harder for our economy to grow, make it harder to protect liberty."
Bush also insisted his comments had "no connection to the Oregon issue at all."
At the White House minutes later, a reporter asked Obama what he thought of Bush's comments.
"I don't even think I have to react to that one," the president said. "I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgments based on the fact that every couple of months we have a mass shooting. And they can decide whether they consider that 'stuff happening.'"
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also quickly responded via Twitter:
A message for Jeb Bush: 380 Americans have been killed in 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone. "Stuff" doesn't just "happen." Inaction happens.— D Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) October 2, 2015
In response, the Bush campaign accused Democrats of twisting the candidate's words.
"It is sad and beyond craven that liberal Democrats, aided and abetted by some in the national media, would dishonestly take Governor Bush's comments out of context in a cheap attempt to advance their political agenda in the wake of a tragedy," spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said. "Taking shameless advantage of a horrific tragedy is wrong and only serves to prey on people's emotions."
Bush also commented on Twitter:
Liberal Dems & some in media distorted my words to advance their agenda in wake of tragedy. It's wrong. Thx to those who set record straight— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) October 2, 2015
Bush has made similar comments in response to mass shootings before. Speaking to high school students in Miami on Sept. 1, a few days after a Virginia reporter was shot dead live on television, a student asked what Bush would do as president to address gun violence.
"Every time a tragedy takes place, the natural inclination is to do something," he told the student. "That's what people generally want to do. ... Historically, when this happens, the 99.9 percent of cases using guns safe in terms, using them safely in terms of their private pursuits... their rights get stricter.
"We have a duty to make sure that our friends know what we care about them," he said. "We need to connect back with people before they tumble back."
Those comments echo something similar Bush said in 1999 as Florida governor in response to the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. He suggested that Florida families should sign a pledge to spend one hour a week "one-on-one" with each of their children in order to avoid such violence.
Below, a full transcript of the portion of the event that included the exchange.
Moderator: Now the question. The Second Amendment. This is South Carolina, I don't want to say anything else beyond that, but I do want to read the Second Amendment. 'A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' Do you think the Second Amendment bestows individual rights or rights of the militia?
BUSH: I think it bestows individual rights and I think that's what, and it needs to be protected, and the best place to sort these issues out is the, at the state level. The federal government tries to create these one size fits all rules and it's -- look, South Carolina's different than New York City. In Florida, when I was governor, I was the NRA stataesman of the year, one year it was on my highlight reel where Charlton Heston gave me a gun on the stage in front of 15,000 people, that was pretty cool to be honest with you. We, we have – in Florida we believe that concealed weapons permits is a, is a proper thing. We have 1.2 million concealed weapon holders, more than double the next state. We have right to carry, there are all sorts of rules that are appropriate for Florida may not be appropriate in other places, but the basic right is embedded in, it's a personal right, I mean it's an individual right to bear arms and that's, that shouldn't be infringed by either local, state or federal law for sure.
And this president – you know, the tendency when we have these tragedies that took place yesterday, it's just heartbreaking to see these things, but this is the broader question of rule-making I think is an important point to make. That whenever you see a tragedy take place, the impulse in the political system, most, more often than at the federal level, but also at the state level, is to 'do something,' right? And what we end up doing lots of times is we create rules on the 99.999 percent of human activity that had nothing to do with the tragedy that forced the conversation about doing something. And we're taking people's rights away each time we do that, and we're not necessarily focusing on the real challenge. So if we have people that are mentally ill, to the point where they go into the vortex and they don't come out and they're hateful, and they're in isolation, and they kill people. The impulse in Washington is take personal rights away from the rest of us. And it won't solve the problem of this tragedy that is just heartbreaking to see. Maybe we oughtta be more connected in our communities. Maybe we oughtta have greater awareness of the mental health challenges that exist all across this country. Maybe there's a better way to deal with this than taking people's human, you know, personal liberty away every time we, you know, kind of require people to do something.
Moderator: And I remember right after Columbine. And this is a long, long time ago I was listening to the radio, and they were talking about how schools you're not allowed to have prayer vigils. But the second – being allowed to pray, I should say, or have, you know, Christian or Jewish or whatever faith-based groups on these public education schools. But then the guy said, you know it's funny that you send a guy there with an Uzi or a handgun to shoot a bunch of people, the first thing they do after the tragedy –
BUSH: Of course.
Moderator:--prayer vigil, whatever the faith-based group is and always to say that you should do that on the front end, maybe you wouldn't have these tragedies on the back end.
BUSH: Yeah, it's, we're in a difficult time in our country, and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to re-connect ourselves with everybody else, it's just, it's very sad to see. But I resist the notion – and I did, I had this, this challenge as governor, because we have, look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it's not necessarily the right thing to do.