A visibly upset President Barack Obama decried the mass shooting in Oregon on Thursday, saying the US has grown “numb” to a constant spate of gun deaths and challenging Congress, voters and gun owners to do something about it.
“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Obama said. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America – next week, or a couple of months from now.”
He said the country’s response has become routine: “We’ve become numb to this.
“We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston,” he said. “It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.”
Obama spoke in the briefing room at the White House after a gunman at an Oregon community college killed at least 10 people. It was by some accounts the 15th mass shooting Obama has addressed as president, including a June shooting in a Charleston, S.C. church that killed nine, including the pastor.
He said his critics would accuse him of politicizing the issue, but said he didn’t care.
“This is something we should politicize, it is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic,” he said. He challenged news organizations to compare the number of Americans killed by terror attacks to the number killed by gun violence.
“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Obama said. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
He argued that when Americans are killed in mine disasters, it works to make mines safer and the US has seatbelt laws to save lives.
“The notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense,” he said.
He said he “hoped and prayed” it would be the last shooting he has to address as president, but added that, based on his experience “there is no guarantee.”
Congress rejected much of Obama’s call for an aggressive gun-control plan in the wake of a Connecticut elementary school shooting, but he asked Thursday for voters to look at how they can convince Congress to change the law.
“If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views,” he said.
But Obama did not say he would lead such a charge. In the wake of the 2012 shooting he and vice president Joe Biden had made an aggressive pitch to ban assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, require background checks on all gun purchases, penalize those who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, hire 1,000 more school resource officers and spend millions more on training, research and counseling.
He did say that “each time this happens I’m going to bring this up,” but said he needed Congress, state legislatures and governors to work with him.
Obama said there is a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in the US, and he argued that tighter restrictions in some US cities and states and other countries have proved effective.
He sarcastically said he could already see the press releases issued by those opposed to new restrictions: “We need more guns, fewer gun safety laws. Does anybody really believe that?”
He didn’t name the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, which has vehemently opposed gun restrictions, but he asked responsible gun owners whether their views are reflected by “the organization that suggests it’s speaking” for them.
Critics have questioned whether additional restrictions on guns would curb any of the shootings, suggesting that existing laws should first be enforced before more regulations are adopted.