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Obama after Oregon school shooting: Scant progress on gun deaths

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 | 8:09 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — A year ago, on the day a gun control push in the Senate went down in flames, President Barack Obama stood with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and parents of Newtown victims in the Rose Garden and declared, "This effort is not over."

On Tuesday, hours after a school shooting in Oregon, a mournful president conceded he was ashamed as an American and terrified as a parent that the United States can't find it in its soul to put a stop to rampant shooting sprees. Barring a fundamental shift in public opinion, Obama said, "it will not change."

"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 Obama, who 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 a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 and massacred 20 children.

"We should be ashamed of that," Obama said. "There's no place else like this."

On Tuesday, a teen gunman armed with a rifle shot and killed a student and injured a teacher before he likely killed himself at a high school in a quiet Columbia River town in Oregon, authorities said.

After the shooting stopped, police spotted the suspect slumped on a toilet in a bathroom at Reynolds High School but couldn't see what was happening with him. Officers used a robot with a camera to investigate and discovered the suspect was dead and that he had likely killed himself, Troutdale police spokesman Sgt. Carey Kaer said.

The victim was identified a 14-year-old freshman Emilio Hoffman, who was "loved by all," police Chief Scott Anderson said at a Tuesday news conference. He said Emilio was found in the boys locker room.

Authorities had tentatively identified the gunman but his name was being withheld until his family was notified, Anderson said.

The Oregon violence came less than a week after a gunman opened fire on a college campus in neighboring Washington state, killing a 19-year-old man and wounding two others. It follows a string of mass shootings that have disturbed the nation, including one Sunday in Nevada that left two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian dead.

The Tuesday shooting was the first fatal school shooting in Oregon since May 1998 when 15-year-old Kip Kinkel killed two students and wounded 25 others at Thurston High School in Springfield near Eugene. He killed his parents prior to the attack and is serving a 111-year prison sentence.

Obama's candid admission Tuesday 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 and well-financed gun manufacturers for making lawmakers "feel the heat" if they back tighter gun control.

"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," he said.

Just over half of Americans think U.S. 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.

Obama's public meditation on gun violence came as he took questions in the State Dining Room from young Americans through the social media site 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, Calif., 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?"


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