US gun debate 'needs to change' - Obama
17 June 2016, 13:11
Orlando – President Barack Obama travelled to grief-stricken
Orlando on Thursday, meeting loved ones devastated by a shooting rampage and
using his bully pulpit to demand that the Republican-controlled Congress pass
Four days after the worst mass shooting in US
history, Obama made a solemn pilgrimage to meet staff at the Pulse nightclub,
emergency responders and some of the dozens of families shattered by gunman
Forty-nine people were killed and 53 wounded when
the 29-year-old Mateen – a Muslim American of Afghan descent – ran amok in a
packed gay nightclub early on Sunday, armed with a legally bought assault
Mateen – who pledged allegiance to the leader of
the Islamic State group during the attack – was killed in a police raid.
But his assault has fuelled America's poisonous
partisan culture wars, prompting new salvos in bitter election-year rows over
immigration, counterterrorism and guns.
After meeting the victims' families, 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 purchasing firearms.
The move was a success, and votes were set for next
Can't catch every 'deranged person'
Understanding of the shooting has been muddied by
witnesses who say Mateen was a regular at the gay club and used gay dating
apps. Investigators were looking into Mateen's social media activity for more
Ron Johnson, the Republican chairperson of the Senate
Committee on Homeland Security, said in a letter to Facebook chief Mark
Zuckerberg that his investigators had found Mateen apparently made a post
sometime during the attack that he was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State
group's leader, and "America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic
He also allegedly posted: "The real muslims
will never accept the filthy ways of the west" and "In the next few
days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa."
Johnson was asking Zuckerberg to share details of
five accounts apparently used by Mateen.
"The motives of this killer may have been
different than the mass shooters in Aurora or Newtown," Obama said,
listing two in the litany of mass shootings that have marked his presidency.
"But the instruments of death were so similar.
And now another 49 innocent people are dead. Another 53 are injured. Some are
still fighting for their lives. Some will have wounds that will last a
Obama insisted the military would tackle the
Islamic State group, 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."
"We can do something about the amount of
damage that they do," he said.
"Unfortunately our politics have conspired to
make it as easy as possible for a terrorist or just a disturbed individual like
those in Aurora and Newtown to buy extraordinarily powerful weapons and they
can do so legally."
The day was meant to be about unity.
In a rare symbolic show of bipartisanship, 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 Obama – his general election rival in 2008 – was "directly
responsible" for the massacre.
McCain later said he had meant to suggest that
Obama's policies in the Middle East were to blame, not the president
In response to the shooting, Republicans have
called for tougher counterterrorism measures and for the Obama administration
to do more to fight the Islamic State group.
FBI agents believe that Mateen was radicalised by
following extremist propaganda online.
The White House says coalition forces and allies
are making gains against the group's strongholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
But Republican arguments were given credence by
Obama's own CIA director John Brennan, who warned on Thursday that the group
retains the ability to conduct attacks around the world.
"Unfortunately, despite all our progress
against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have
not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach," he told US
lawmakers at a hearing on Capitol Hill.