'What good are your thoughts & prayers': Ocasio-Cortez criticized for comments on New Zealand shooting

Christal Hayes

WASHINGTON – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew backlash on Twitter after criticizing those who offered prayers after the mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand.

"At 1st I thought of saying, 'Imagine being told your house of faith isn’t safe anymore.' But I couldn’t say 'imagine.' Because of Charleston. Pittsburgh. Sutherland Springs," the first-term Democrat from New York wrote hours after the shooting. "What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don’t even keep the pews safe?"

Ocasio-Cortez's tweet sparked a firestorm of replies from people who criticized her for attacking those who chose to pray while absorbing the details of the heinous attacks. 

The shootings in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday resulted in at least  fatalities and the detention of three armed suspects, one charged with murder, in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a terrorist attack.

"Just wow. Incredible nasty thing to say after a tragedy," one woman wrote on Twitter, continuing in another post: "Even if you don’t believe in prayers don’t judge "other because they do. Aren’t we supposed to love and accept everybody for what they believe and who they are ??"

Another person chimed in, calling Ocasio-Cortez's tweet an "awful take," adding that it's "REALLY not the time to belittle people of faith."

Ocasio-Cortez attempted to clarify her comments in another tweet, saying her "'thoughts and prayers' is reference to the NRA’s phrase used to deflect conversation away from policy change during tragedies."

That wasn't enough for Republicans, who for months have continuously scrutinized Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic socialist. 

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch responded, saying Ocasio-Cortez was mocking the act of prayer even after these attacks targeted places of worship. 

"Pretty sure thoughts and prayers isn’t anyone’s phrase, and prayer especially (which you mocked earlier after what happened in a house of prayer?) is a real action, a petition to, a conversation with, God -- in this case, to request protection, comfort for those suffering," Loesch wrote on Twitter. 

Republicans, including Liz Wheeler, a host on the conservative network One America News, also criticized Ocasio-Cortez's response. 

"Our thoughts & prayers do matter. No, prayers won’t bring back loved ones, but prayers bring comfort, respite & God's grace to those who mourn," Wheeler wrote on Twitter. "Anyone who's lost a loved one to tragic death, murder, or terror knows prayers matter."

Ocasio Cortez's tweet also sparked conversation about whether the NRA had a presence or pull on politics in New Zealand, as it does in the U.S. The group does have an affiliate in the country but it does not appear nearly as influential as it is in the U.S. 

Philip Alpers, who founded GunPolicy.org, told CNN that the gun lobby in New Zealand is "small but very strong" and said gun groups in the country have foiled attempts to alter gun laws over the years. 

The BBC notes the minimum age to own a firearm in New Zealand is 16 and 18 for a military-style weapon.

New Zealand doesn't require that guns be registered, making it hard to know how many are owned throughout the country. In 2016, police estimated that number at about 1.2 million, meaning about one gun per every four people, BBC reported. 

BBC notes the country requires firearm owners to pass a background check and examines medical records, where mental health issues are considered. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'What good are your thoughts & prayers': Ocasio-Cortez criticized for comments on New Zealand shooting