LONDON — If anyone had any hope President Donald Trump would adopt a more conciliatory tone toward Britain before his visit in July, it was dashed Friday when he appeared before a National Rifle Association conference in Dallas and took a jab at London’s crime rate.
“Knives, knives, knives, knives,” he said, mimicking a stabbing motion as he defended gun ownership in the United States.
Saying that Americans’ rights to carry guns were “under siege,” he said: “I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital right in the middle is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds.
“They don’t have guns. They have knives, and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital.”
The reaction in Britain was weary humor and bewilderment, with many in the news and on social media questioning where the president got his information.
Writer and performer Robert Webb wrote on Twitter: “Well, it’s a beautiful day here in Trump’s war zone. I’ve been to the shop and didn’t get even mildly stabbed. Now we’re nicely stocked up on tinned goods & I won’t have venture out again till Tuesday. Phew!”
According to the BBC, Trump may have used as inspiration a Radio 4 interview last month with a London trauma surgeon, Martin P. Griffiths, who said he was treating stabbing victims “on a daily basis.”
He added that some of his military colleagues had described their practice at the institution as similar to that of a military camp in Afghanistan. The interview was picked up by Mail Online.
But the surgeon, who works for the Royal London Hospital, responded on Twitter to Trump, suggesting he had missed the whole point and saying he was “happy to invite Mr. Trump to my (prestigious) hospital.”
Karim Brohi, a trauma surgeon at the Royal London Hospital and director of London’s major trauma system, said in a statement Saturday that while knife violence was “a serious issue” in London, “to suggest guns are part of the solution is ridiculous.”
He added: “Gunshot wounds are at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair. We are proud of our world-leading service and to serve the people of London.”
Knife crime in Britain rose by 21 percent last year, according to figures released in September by the Office for National Statistics, which compiles an authoritative survey of crime in England and Wales, and stabbings in London were at their highest level in six years. At least 38 people in London have died from knife crime so far this year, according to the Metropolitan Police.
A government poster campaign in some parts of London has promoted the virtues of “living knife free.”
Analysts say that the surge in violent crime has been driven by factors like rivalries between drug gangs, cuts to youth services and social programs and the ease with which teenagers can now taunt and provoke one another on social media.
The U.S. president previously suggested that schoolteachers should get a “bit of a bonus” to carry guns — a position backed by the NRA. But in February, under pressure after a gunman killed 17 people at a school in Florida, he ordered the Justice Department to consider banning so-called bump stocks, which enable semi-automatic guns to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun.
Trump’s latest remarks came weeks after he accepted Prime Minister Theresa May’s invitation to come to Britain, after canceling an earlier plan to visit.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan — who previously faced criticism by Trump and Donald Trump Jr. over his handling of terrorist attacks in the city — had warned that the president could face protests if he visited the capital.
Politicians and anti-Trump campaigners across Britain said they would stage mass protests.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.