ORLANDO, Fla. — President Barack Obama said grieving family members in Orlando pleaded with him Thursday to take steps to prevent further gun carnage.
“Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist or even just a disturbed individual to buy extraordinarily powerful weapons, and they can do so legally,” Obama said after meeting families of victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting that took place Sunday.
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and parents and they asked, ‘Why does keep happening?’ And they pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage. They don’t care about the politics. Neither do I.”
Obama arrived in Orlando on Thursday for the grim task of consoling families after their loved ones were gunned down during another horrific U.S. shooting. After the meeting, he said Americans must work together to prevent killers from committing further atrocities.
The president said that since the last two terror attacks on U.S. soil were “homegrown” and committed by “deranged individuals,” it would take “more than just our military” to prevent further massacres.
“As good as they are, as dedicated as they are, as focused as they are, if you have lone wolf attacks like this, hatched in the minds of a disturbed (person), then we’re going to have to take different kinds of steps to prevent something like this from happening,” Obama said.
Obama said while the motives of the Orlando killer may have been different than that of killers in Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, “the instruments of death were so similar.”
Obama has traveled to the sites of at least nine mass shootings in the United States during his two terms, including three in the last year, to meet with families of the dead.
The Orlando shooting is unique, though, both in the scale of the tragedy — the death toll of 49 makes it the worst mass shooting in U.S. history — and the shooter’s ties to global terror. Obama said this week the perpetrator had pledged allegiance to ISIS but didn’t appear to be directed by the organization.
It targeted a gay nightclub, with many of the victims gay and Latino. That has further escalated the debate following the attack, which has struck on a series of charged political and cultural flash-points of Obama-era America.
Biden joined Obama to meet with the victims’ families at the Amway Center arena in downtown Orlando. The two men were expected to remain on the site for more than two hours.
Aside from families, Obama visited survivors of the terrorist attack, many of whom suffered serious injuries but emerged from the massacre alive.
Prior to their meeting with families and survivors, Obama and Biden spoke to local law enforcement officials to thank them for their actions in responding to the attack at Pulse nightclub, according to the White House.
Afterward, the president and vice president met with the owners and staff of Pulse nightclub who were working onsite when the attack occurred. Two members of the Pulse staff were killed in the attack.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former 2016 GOP presidential candidate, accompanied Obama on his flight in a demonstration of the president’s interest to “show solidarity,” according to the White House. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, greeted Obama at airport, as did several other local officials. Obama called the governor Wednesday.
When Obama arrived, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer presented him with a black T-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow-colored heart and the words #OrlandoUnited.
In Washington, however, lawmakers paused in efforts to pass gun control legislation, something the Obama administration has backed and the President spoke to in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
A senior Democratic aide said votes will most likely happen next week, and they are looking at two Democratic amendments concerning the terror watch list and background checks as well as two GOP amendments. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the Senate will hold a series of votes on gun amendments Monday.
Hours before Obama’s plane touched down in Orlando, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy ended his high profile, 14-hour filibuster calling for votes on gun control legislation.
Republican leaders in Congress have stood by their stance that gun control is not the key to fighting homegrown terror threats, but their party’s presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he planned to meet with the NRA to discuss “not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.”
And one senior Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, pointed to Middle East policy as opposed to gun control as driving the threat that culminated in the Orlando shooting.
“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. “So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”
McCain said later he “misspoke,” using a statement to clarify that it was not the President himself who was “personally responsible,” but his “security decisions.”