Police and rescue forces search the scene where a man rammed a car into a group of soldiers in Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS
Police and rescue forces search the scene where a man rammed a car into a group of soldiers in Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS

Paris/London — US President Donald Trump caused anger in France and Britain by suggesting looser gun laws could have helped avert fatal attacks in Paris in 2015 and linking knife crime in London to a handgun ban.

In a speech to the National Rifle Association (NRA) on Friday, Trump acted out the shooting of victims in the Paris rampage and said if civilians had been armed "it would have been a whole different story".

The French government issued its strongest criticism of Trump since he took office. One minister urged the US leader to apologise, at a time when President Emmanuel Macron has been reinforcing bilateral ties. "France expresses its firm disapproval of President Trump’s comments about the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015 and demands that the memory of the victims be respected," the foreign office said in a statement. "France is proud to be a country where acquiring and carrying firearms is strictly regulated."

French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said he hoped Trump "would come back on his words and express regret".

Other French politicians took issue with Trump’s comments, after he acted out the scene of the massacre by Islamist assailants at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall, where 90 of the 130 victims of the attacks died.

"They took their time and gunned them down one by one. Boom! Come over here. Boom! Come over here. Boom," Trump said, using his hands in a firing gesture. Francois Hollande, who was French president at the time, tweeted that Trump’s latest remarks were "shameful".

Trauma surgeons in London, meanwhile, said Trump had missed the point when, in the same speech, he linked knife crime there to an absence of guns. Comments by Trump have caused upset before in Britain. Relations with Prime Minister Theresa May cooled in 2017 after she criticised him for retweeting anti-Islam videos by a British far-right group.

Trump, who is due to visit Britain on July 13, told NRA members that a "once very prestigious" London hospital, which he did not name, had become overwhelmed with stabbing victims.

"They don’t have guns. They have knives and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital," he said. "They say it’s as bad as a military war zone hospital. Knives, knives, knives, knives," he said, making stabbing gestures.

In April, trauma surgeon Martin Griffiths told the BBC some of his colleagues had likened the Royal London Hospital in east London where he works to the former British military base Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. But he indicated Trump had drawn the wrong conclusion from his remarks.

Griffiths posted his comment next to an animation of a stick figure with the phrase "The Point" flying over its head and also linked to a statement on the hospital’s website by fellow trauma surgeon Karim Brohi.

"There is more we can all do to combat this violence, but to suggest guns are part of the solution is ridiculous. Gunshot wounds are at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair," Brohi said.

Britain’s government effectively banned handgun ownership in England, Scotland and Wales after a school shooting in 1996.