UPDATE: 5:40 p.m. EDT – Speaking near the site of Sunday’s massacre of nightclub goers by an Afghan-American who expressed support for radical Islamic groups, President Barack Obama addressed the nation Thursday, calling on Congress to pass measures to keep semiautomatic assault rifles out of the hands of would-be mass killers.
“We can’t catch every deranged person who wishes to do harm,” Obama told an audience that included the families of people killed or injured in the attack inside the crowded Pulse gay nightclub. “But we can do something about the amount of damage they can do.”
Omar Mateen, the shooter in Sunday’s massacre who was shot fatally by law enforcement during the siege, used a Sig Sauer MCX, an AR-15-like semiautomatic assault rifle, to kill 49 people and wound 53 others. Semiautomatic AR-15-style rifles can fire about 45 rounds per minute, depending on how fast the shooter can pull the trigger, emptying a standard and easily changed 30-round magazine in less than a minute.
Obama said rifles like these are “extraordinarily powerful weapons,” and called on Congress to vote on gun control measures. Lawmakers will vote this week on whether to ban people on terrorist watch lists from obtaining gun licenses and to close the so-called gun show loophole, which exempts background checks on buyers involved in private, person-to-person gun sales.
But the president dismissed the notion that the problem should only be addressed through the lens of Islamist radicalization. Invoking the July 2012 Aurora, Colorado, shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred less than six months later in Newtown, Connecticut, both perpetrated by white males with no connection to Islamic propaganda, Obama said the debate over gun control in the U.S. “needs to change.”
The families of people killed in these mass shootings, he added, “don’t care about the politics [of the gun control debate] and neither do I.”
He then tackled the oft-cited claim by gun enthusiasts that argue more guns in the hands of regular innocent people would solve the problem of mass shootings. “It defies common sense,” he said.
Earlier, Vice President Joe Biden and the commander in chief placed 49 flowers at the site of Sunday’s massacre.
UPDATE: 4:38 p.m. EDT – U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., launched a volley Thursday against President Barack Obama, saying the commander in chief’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq makes him culpable for Sunday’s massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
"Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama's failures -- utter failures," McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill, according to CNN. McCain was referring to the Islamic State group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.
McCain later posted a message on his Twitter account, clarifying his statement.
To clarify, I was referring to Pres Obama’s national security decisions that have led to rise of #ISIL, not to the President himself
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) June 16, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Orlando, Florida, Thursday to offer condolences and pay their respects in the wake of the shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in the city Sunday. The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history was carried out by a gunman who killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others, the latest in a series of high-profile mass shootings in the past year.
As a result, the Orlando massacre has reignited debate over how the U.S. handles gun violence, terrorism and prejudices against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as well as Muslims. The president and vice president will “meet with families of victims of the attack and stand in solidarity with the Orlando community,” the White House said. Details about where and when they will visit were not announced. Obama is expected to make a public address at 4 p.m. EDT.
The president’s reaction to mass shootings has become a frequent theme during his time in the White House. Obama has addressed the country after a shooting at least 15 other times since he took office, and, in many of those instances, he has also visited the families affected by the tragedies.
Here are the other times Obama has visited cities to express his sympathy for families after a mass shooting in the past eight years.
November 2009 — Killeen, Texas
Obama visited Fort Hood where a military psychiatrist killed 13 people at a processing center filled with soldiers. The president, along with his wife Michelle, met with the victims’ relatives and the dozens of people wounded.
“It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know — no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor,” Obama said at the time.
January 2011 — Tucson, Arizona
After six people were killed in a shooting at a supermarket meet-and-greet for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama visited Arizona and condemned the “politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”
“Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together,” Obama said.
July 2012 — Aurora, Colorado
When a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding many others, the president visited the University of Colorado Medical Center, where 23 of the victims were treated. Because this took place during election season, Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney suspended all campaigning for the weekend, the New York Times reported at the time.
“Even in the darkest of days, life continues and people are strong,” Obama said, describing his visits with family members of victims. “I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband.”
August 2012 — Oak Creek, Wisconsin
Obama notably did not visit Oak Creek, Wisconsin, after a gunman stormed a Sikh temple Aug. 5, 2012, killing six people. Local leaders and congregation members questioned his absence, and the First Lady visited with victims Aug. 23, which some still noted was a more muted reaction than the White House had in response to the Aurora, Colorado, shooting just a month earlier.
December 2012 — Newtown, Connecticut
After 26 children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Obama traveled to Connecticut to visit the families of victims and attend a vigil where he gave an emotional speech.
“In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama said at the time. “Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?”
He also emphasized that the devastating shooting could change how Americans view gun violence and said he wanted to make sure similar events did not happen again.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” Obama asked. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no.”
September 2013 — Washington, D.C.
When a shooter killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, the president told the nation it “can’t accept” the massacre as “inevitable.”
“It ought to be a shock to all of us, as a nation and as a people,” Obama said at the Marine Barracks near the Navy Yard. “It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.”
April 2014 — Killeen, Texas
Five years after the first shooting at Fort Hood during Obama’s presidency, he found himself back in the same place when an Iraq War veteran killed three and wounded 16 people before committing suicide.
“Part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before,” Obama said in 2014. “This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago. Once more, soldiers who survived foreign war zones were struck down here at home, where they’re supposed to be safe. We still do not yet know exactly why. But we do know this: We must honor their lives not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
June 2015 — Charleston, South Carolina
After the deaths of nine churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Obama, along with the first lady, Biden, Hillary Clinton and a group of lawmakers led by House Speaker John Boehner, traveled to attend the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who was killed in the massacre.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it,” Obama said during his eulogy for Pinckney. “So that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.”
October 2015 — Roseburg, Oregon
Obama visited Roseburg, Oregon, a week after a gunman killed nine people at Umpqua Community College there, and he met with survivors and victims’ families. He was also met by protestors who did not want him visiting after the tragedy, the Oregonian reported at the time.
“I've got some very strong feelings about this, because when you talk to these families, you’re reminded that this could be happening to your child, or your mom, or your dad, or your relative or your friend,” Obama somberly told reporters during his visit. “And so we’re going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place.”
December 2015 — San Bernardino, California
After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino late last year, the president and first lady traveled to California to meet with victims and families of those killed as well as first responders who helped on the day of the shooting.
“You had people from every background, every faith, some described their loved ones who had come to this country as immigrants, others who had lived in the area all of their lives,” Obama told reporters after meeting with the families. He added that their diversity was “so representative of this country.”
Most recent, Obama gave an emotional address Sunday, saying the Orlando nightclub shooting was a reminder of how easy it is for individuals to carry out these types of mass killings in the U.S. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” Obama said. “And to actively do nothing is a decision, as well.”
He also called for Americans to stand united and not give into hate or prejudice in a seeming reference to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who doubled down on his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country in response to the Orlando shooting.
“This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” Obama said.