US President Barack Obama said terrorist attacks like this week’s massacre in Orlando, Florida, will continue if the US does not make it more difficult for would-be attackers to get guns.
Obama spent several hours meeting with victims’ families and first responders in Orlando before placing a bouquet of white flowers at a memorial to the 49 victims of Sunday’s shooting at a gay nightclub.
The meeting has become an all-too-familiar ritual for the president after a spate of mass shootings during his nearly eight-year presidency.
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and friends and they asked, ‘Why does this keep happening?’” Obama said. “And they pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage. They don’t care about the politics. Neither do I.”
Gunman Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to Islamic State during the massacre, and Obama said the attack was both a terrorist attack and a hate crime targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Obama vowed to defeat Islamic State militants abroad, but said the fact that the last two attacks on US soil in Orlando and San Bernadino, California, last year were carried out by homegrown terrorists show “we’re going to have to do more to prevent these kinds of events from happening.”
Mateen’s motive may have been different than other mass killers, Obama said, but action to prevent attackers from getting assault weapons should be the same.
Attacks by so-called lone wolf terrorists cannot be completely prevented, but making it more difficult to acquire assault weapons could save many lives, Obama said.
“This debate needs to change. It’s outgrown the old political stalemates,” he said.
The shooting has renewed the political debate about US gun laws, with a US senator taking the floor of the Senate in a marathon speech session to push for action on the issue.
Senator Chris Murphy, who represents Connecticut, where a mass shooter killed 20 children and six adults at a school in 2012, held the floor for nearly 15 hours until 2:11 am (0611 GMT).
Democratic lawmakers are pushing the so-called No Fly, No Buy proposal to expand prohibitions to prevent would-be terrorists who are already barred from flying from buying guns.
Separately lawmakers in the lower House of Representatives passed a series ofcounter terrorism measures designed to prevent Americans from joining terrorist groups. The measures did not include the gun bill.
Obama has drawn criticism for his handling of the situation from opposition Republicans, with Senator John McCain on Thursday drawing a parallel between the attack and Obama’s policies in Iraq and Syria.
“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became (Islamic State), and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures,” he told reporters at the US Capitol, according to the Washington Post.
The remarks drew comparison with remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that seemed to connect Obama to the attack implying that the president sympathised with terrorists.
McCain later clarified that he did not mean to imply that Obama was personally responsible, only that his policies to remove US troops from Iraq had led to the rise of the Islamic State and allowed it to stage attacks.
Africa News Agency