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Obama blasts gun laws, calls for national 'soul searching'

© AFP file photo

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-11

US President Barack Obama has expressed deep frustration at Washington's inability to enact even modest gun control measures, calling for some national "soul searching" in the aftermath of a new rash of shootings across the country.

“The country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm and we take it for granted in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me,” Obama said Tuesday in answer to a question at a White House online event sponsored by Tumblr.

“My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage,” Obama said.

No developed nation on earth would put up with mass shootings that happen now once a week and disappear from the news within a day, Obama said – no nation except America.

It was a moment of bleak reflection and weary resignation for the president, who said he thought universal background checks were the least the country could do after a 20-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle shot his way into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and massacred 20 children in December 2012.

Since then, there have been “at least” 74 shootings at schools and campuses, according to a group called Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for tougher gun laws.

“We should be ashamed,” Obama said, hours after yet another deadly school shooting, this time in Oregon. “There’s no place else like this.”

‘Terrified of the NRA’

The candid admission that gun control is all but a lost cause for his presidency marked a stark change in tone.

Despite shelving efforts to get Congress to vote on gun control, White House officials have always insisted they haven’t abandoned the issue. In 2013, Obama issued 23 executive orders related to gun violence in an attempt to take whatever modest steps he could without requiring a congressional vote.

Obama said he respects gun rights and the American tradition embodied by the Second Amendment. But he blamed the National Rifle Association (NRA) and well-financed gun manufacturers for making lawmakers “feel the heat” if they supported tighter gun controls.

“Most members of Congress – and to some degree this is bipartisan – are terrified of the NRA,” Obama said, alluding to opposition from some Democrats that helped thwart the Senate effort.

He said the majority of Americans support gun control steps but don’t feel passionately enough about it to punish lawmakers who disagree. “Until that happens, sadly, not that much is going to change.” Just over half of Americans think US gun laws ought to be stricter, an Associated Press-GfK poll in December found, while just 15 percent think they should be less strict. Other polls have found support for background checks on all gun buyers exceeds 80 percent.

‘No monopoly on crazy people’

Obama’s public meditation on gun violence came as he took questions in the State Dining Room from young Americans via Tumblr.

Although the session was focused on student loan debt, a student asked Obama about gun violence and said he had known one of the victims of last month’s rampage in Isla Vista, California, that killed six.

The president recalled seeing the father of one of those victims appear on television, pleading with society not to let his son’s death be in vain.

“As a father myself I just – I couldn’t understand the pain he must be going through and just the primal scream that he gave out,” Obama said.

“Why? Why aren’t we doing something about this?”

Obama also took aim at the argument often advanced by gun rights groups, that the real root of mass shootings was the lack of widespread mental health treatment.

"The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people," Obama said.

"It's not the only country that has psychosis, and yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else."

"What's the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses."

Spate of attacks

In Tuesday’s shooting at an Oregon high school, a gunman shot and killed a student. The gunman also died, though it was unclear if he took his own life or was shot by police responding to the incident.

On May 23, a student with mental problems, the son of a Hollywood director, went on a gun rampage at a college campus in Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles, killing six people and then himself.

On June 5, a gunman killed one person and injured two others on a college campus in the northwestern city of Seattle, in a spree the local mayor denounced as part of America's "epidemic of gun violence".

Then on Sunday, a couple with possible links to anti-government militia shot dead two police officers execution-style in a Las Vegas pizza restaurant, before killing another civilian nearby and then themselves.

The president said he was willing to work with anyone to enact gun legislation. But there is no prospect, especially in mid-term congressional election year, of a reform movement emerging anytime soon.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)

Date created : 2014-06-11

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