At least 26 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in Texas' recent history Sunday. And as happens after every tragedy in America, many conservative politicians offered their thoughts and prayers to those affected. But when the House speaker was criticized for saying Texas needs prayers while ignoring calls for strengthened gun laws, Paul Ryan defended his reaction to the Sutherland Springs shooting by saying: "Prayer works."
In an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham on Monday night, Ryan fired back at the "far secular left" for criticizing his statement offering "thoughts and prayers" following the Texas shooting. "People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say" Ryan said. "And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what? Prayer works."
Ryan went even further to claim those criticizing him were creating discord, saying: "It’s no wonder you have so much polarization and disunity in this country when people think like that."
The House speaker's reaction to the shooting at a First Baptist Church in a small Texas town didn't differ from his usual platitudes. He tweeted: "Reports out of Texas are devastating. The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now."
He offered similar condolences after the Las Vegas shooting a month ago that killed 58 and injured more than 500, writing in a statement: "America woke up to heartbreaking news ... The whole country stands united in our shock, in our condolences, and in our prayers."
Ryan wasn't alone in sending thoughts and prayers to Texas, either. Vice President Mike Pence, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, and countless other Republican politicians said they were praying and sending love to the victims' families.
While prayers are comforting to some, many were quick to point out that they're meaningless when paired with Ryan's and the GOP's continued inaction on gun control.
And considering how much money many of the politicians who pray after mass shootings take from the NRA, the sentiment seems hypocritical to those calling for more gun control. Ryan accepted $5,950 from the pro-gun organization during the 2016 election alone, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by OpenSecrets. Rep. Coffman received $9,900. Sen. Blunt received more than anyone in Congress, racking in $11,900.
President Trump also benefited from millions of NRA dollars in 2016, as the organization spent at least $30.3 million to get him elected. Considering his financial ties to the NRA, it's no surprise the president takes the same approach as Ryan after mass shootings — offering prayers and little else.
Speaking at a press conference in South Korea Tuesday, Trump claimed "hundreds more" would have died in the Texas shooting if there were stricter gun laws. He also took to Twitter to bash liberals criticizing Republican politicians for sending only thoughts and prayers to Texas victims.
"Mocking good and hard working & God fearing Americans for praying probably isn't the best strategy for smug Dems," Trump tweeted Monday, ignoring the fact that the majority of criticisms were lodged at those in Washington, not average Americans.
Obviously, anyone who wants to pray after a tragedy is free to do so. And if Ryan believes prayer works, that's his prerogative. But it's also his duty as a U.S. congressman to pass legislation that will keep Americans safe. Gun control advocates argue that "thoughts and prayers" aren't enough to combat the epidemic of mass shootings across the country, especially considering access to guns has allowed the tragedies to become more frequent and more deadly in recent years.