WASHINGTON — Powerless to act after yet another mass shooting, all the president of the United States could do was vent.
Barack Obama has clasped grieving parents close. His voice has broken as he’s read aloud the names of murdered kids. He’s wept in the White House briefing room. He’s raged at the gun lobby and failed to force Congress to pass new firearms control laws. And he’s delivered wake up call after wake up call to the nation, beseeching action.
But yet again, on Thursday, a sad, somber and angry Obama walked before the cameras to bemoan another community traumatized by a mass killing.
This time it was at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where a gunman went on the rampage earlier in the day and murdered at least 10 people — before being shot dead by police.
But, as fury flickered across a face shrouded by sad eyes, Obama seemed to be thinking of all the other times — of his speeches after massacres in Connecticut, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and recently in Charleston, South Carolina. These moments, he’s admitted, have been among the most searing experiences of his presidency.
“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it … We have become numb to this,” he complained.
Obama’s remarks before hushed reporters was more than another emotional expression of impatience with a political system he believes has failed to permit even modest changes to gun laws, such as a ban on assault weapons or enhanced background checks. It was a cry of frustration at the nation itself and his failure to overcome the treacherous politics and well-worn arguments that surround Second Amendment issues.
He furiously predicted pro-gun organizations would crank out a press release calling for fewer gun control laws in the wake of the latest tragedy — as he delivered what CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller, the unofficial chronicler of White House life, says was his 15th address after a mass shooting.
“What is also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ Well this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”
Obama’s comments are likely to be condemned by some Republican critics and the pro-gun lobby because they came so quickly after the latest tragedy. It was not initially clear whether the kind of gun control measures that he advocates would have done anything to prevent Thursday’s shooting or would have kept a weapon out of the hands of the unidentified assailant.
It’s highly unusual for a president to compare his own nation unfavorably to others. But Obama repeatedly does so after shootings — saying Britain and Australia, for instance, had passed gun control laws to prevent new massacres.
“We are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people,” Obama said.
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” Obama said, and hammered Congress for even blocking the collection of data on shooting incidents.
“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones.”
And predicting that it would not be the last time in his presidency that he would have to give such a painful speech, Obama vowed: “Each time this happens, I am going to say we are going to have to do something about it. And we are going to have to change our laws.
He added: “This is not something I can do myself.”
But Obama gave no details of a new push to get gun laws and legislation requiring more comprehensive background checks through Congress. And it appears unlikely he will be successful in forging any type of gun legislation before he leaves the White House in January 2017.
In fact, he admitted there is nothing he can do.
“I would ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. That will require a change of politics on this issue,” he said. “If you think this is a problem then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.”
He went on: “Each time this happens I am going to bring this up.”
As he reached the end of his 12-minute statement, Obama’s anger and impatience seemed to shift to sadness and resignation.
“May God bless the memories of those who were killed today . May he give us the strength to come together and find the courage to change.”