GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jeb Bush invited a firestorm on Friday by saying that “stuff happens” in reference to renewed calls for legislative action after tragedies like the mass shooting in Oregon.
“I had this challenge as governor because we had — look, stuff happens,” he said at a forum in South Carolina. “There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
The inelegant phrase immediately set off a wave of criticism from observers suggesting he was playing down the scourge of gun violence and the tragedy on Thursday, in which a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Roseburg, Ore.
Mr Bush, taking questions from the state’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, was speaking about a pattern of proposing legislative responses that he said did not halt the tragedies they were meant to stop.
Asked afterward about the “stuff happens” comment, Mr. Bush said, “it wasn’t a mistake,” and requested that a reporter point out “what I said wrong.”
“Things happen all the time,” Mr. Bush said. “Things. Is that better?”
Asked what he meant, Mr. Bush said he was talking more generally about the tendency to pass laws in response to tragic events.
“Tragedies,” he said. “A child drowned in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around pools. Well it may not change it. Or you have a car accident and the impulse is to pass a law that deals with that unique event. And the cumulative effect of this is, 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.”
Mr. Bush said he was not referring specifically to Oregon when he said “stuff happens.”
At the forum at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., Mr. Bush boasted of his pro-gun record as Florida governor, recalling awards he received from the National Rifle Association and noting that he once received a gun from the group’s former president, Charlton Heston.
At a news conference in Washington, President Obama was asked to respond to Mr. Bush’s comments after being read a small portion of them.
“I don’t even think I have to react to that one,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “The American people should hear that.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Bush, Allie Brandenburger, said in an email that Mr. Bush’s critics were “taking shameless advantage of a horrific tragedy.”
“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,” she said.