Mass shootings

Obama renews push for gun control

US President says debate on firearms must change as he consoles Orlando victims' kin

Mr Obama and Mr Biden laying flowers at a memorial at the Dr Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts in Orlando on Thursday for the victims of Sunday's mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
Mr Obama and Mr Biden laying flowers at a memorial at the Dr Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts in Orlando on Thursday for the victims of Sunday's mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ORLANDO (Florida) • US President Barack Obama has travelled to grief-stricken Orlando, meeting loved ones devastated by a shooting rampage and using his bully pulpit to demand that the Republican-controlled Congress pass gun control.

Four days after the worst mass shooting in United States history, Mr Obama made a solemn pilgrimage on Thursday to meet staff at the Pulse nightclub, emergency responders and some of the dozens of families shattered by gunman Omar Mateen.

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 wounded when 29-year-old Omar - a Muslim American of Afghan descent - ran amok in a packed gay nightclub early on Sunday, armed with a legally bought assault rifle.

Omar - who pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during the attack - was killed in a police raid.

His assault has fuelled the US' poisonous partisan culture wars, prompting new salvos in bitter election-year rows over immigration, counter-terrorism and guns.

After meeting the victims' families, Mr Obama said "our hearts are broken too" and insisted the tone of the country's hyper-partisan debate on firearms "needs to change".

Relatives of the victims "don't care about the politics. And neither do I", he said.

The Republican-controlled Congress has steadfastly refused to pass any gun legislation, saying to do so would infringe on the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Frustrated Democrats took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to launch a procedural obstruction, known as a filibuster, to pressure Republicans to accept so-called "no fly, no buy" legislation that would bar those on watch lists or no-fly lists from buying firearms. The move was a success, and votes were set for next week.

Understanding of the shooting has been muddied by witnesses who say Omar was a regular at the gay club and used gay dating apps. Investigators were looking into his social media activity for more clues.

"The motives of this killer may have been different than the mass shooters in Aurora or Newtown," Mr Obama said, listing two in the litany of mass shootings that have marked his presidency.

"But the instruments of death were so similar."

He insisted the military would tackle ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in their hideouts, and intelligence services would work to disrupt such networks. But, he warned, the government could not catch every "deranged person".

The day was meant to be about unity. In a rare symbolic show of bipartisanship, Mr Obama arrived with Republican one-time presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and was greeted on the tarmac by Republican Florida governor Rick Scott and Vice-President Joe Biden.

But any goodwill was blown apart when Senator John McCain said Mr Obama - his general election rival in 2008 - was "directly responsible" for the massacre.

Mr McCain later said he had meant to suggest that Mr Obama's policies in the Middle East were to blame, not the President personally.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Obama renews push for gun control'. Subscribe