Obama Visits Orlando Families, Calls for Assault Gun Ban
President Obama brought to Orlando Thursday an armload of white roses, a seasoned mourner’s sorrow, and an entreaty to Congress to ban assault weapons to help protect Americans from mass murderers.
“Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist … to buy extraordinary powerful weapons, and they can do so legally,” Obama said after he and Vice President Joe Biden spent hours with survivors of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, extending to victims and their relatives the emotional support of a shaken nation.
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and friends,” the president told reporters after he and Biden placed flowers at a makeshift memorial near city hall piled high with remembrances to honor the dead.
“Our hearts are broken, too,” the president and Biden said they told the families.
Obama challenged gun-rights advocates who oppose efforts to expand gun background checks, exclude assault weapons from civilian sales, and limit high-capacity magazine clips that make rapid firing possible without the need to reload, asking, “why it is they think our liberty requires these repeated tragedies.”
Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard who murdered 49 people in a crowded nightclub Sunday, was armed with a pistol and a Sig Sauer MCX rifle originally designed for U.S. Special Operations forces, according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. Mateen purchased the weapons and ammunition legally. He died following a long siege Sunday that included multiple communications by the shooter with the outside world while stalking hostages inside the club.
The president and Biden, who joined forces but failed in 2013 to persuade Congress to pass gun safety restrictions in the aftermath of the murders of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut, are renewing their policy push. The gun-rights debate is now part of a national discussion about how best to stop lone-wolf domestic terrorists who claim inspiration from Islamic State jihadists.
Since the Orlando bloodbath, Obama has spoken several times about Mateen’s mix of terror, murder and apparent targeting of LGBT patrons at the Pulse nightclub.
“We can’t anticipate or catch every single deranged person,” Obama said, “but we can do something about the amount of damage that they do.”
Obama urged Congress to rethink its opposition to gun restrictions, even during a politically contentious election year in which the gun-rights lobby is especially influential.
“We are all going to have to work together, at every level of government, across political lines, to stop killers who want to terrorize,” the president said. “We’re going to have to take different kinds of steps” to prevent future such slayings, he added. “It’s going to take more than our military.”
The Senate is expected to debate whether to pass legislation that would bar people on the government’s terrorist no-fly list from being able to legally purchase weapons. Advocates believe senators reached agreement early Thursday to hold votes on two measures, following a nearly 15-hour Senate filibuster that propelled the debate into new headlines.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost a bid this year to be the GOP presidential nominee, and fellow Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, accompanied Obama and Biden to Orlando.