Clad in dark suits with their brows furrowed, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden laid 49 roses — one for each of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims — at a makeshift memorial on Thursday afternoon at the Phillips Center, adjacent to Orlando’s City Hall.
President Obama has been here before, addressing the families of victims and survivors in the aftermath of a deadly mass shooting. But here he was again, traveling to Orlando almost a week after 49 were shot dead and 53 others were wounded at the Pulse nightclub. The president’s trip to Orlando was his 10th visit to the scene of a mass shooting.
During the president’s remarks, after meeting with families of victims and survivors, the poignancy of the visit rung true. He described the families’ grief as “beyond description.” Obama again called the shooting an act of “terror” and an act of “hate.” The shooting, he said, was an attack on the LGBT community.
“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. They pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage,” Obama said Thursday. “They don’t care about the politics. Neither do I. Niether does [Vice President] Joe [Biden].”
Obama added, “the notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer, defies common sense,” recalling some arguments by pro-gun activists.
President Obama said though the city was “shaken by an evil, hateful act.” “The worst of humanity reared it’s evil but the best of humanity came roaring back,” he said.
President Obama traveled to Orlando with the Vice President, Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio and Brown traveled via Air Force One with the President, while Sen. Nelson flew with the Vice President. Before meeting with families at Orlando’s Amway Center, President Obama had an opportunity to thank Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and first responders for their response to the shooting. During a press conference on Monday, authorities said the actions of officials who took down the shooter “saved many, many lives.” The president also met with staff members from Pulse nightclub, which lost two staff members during the attack.
Though the president visited Orlando to meet with families, he waded into what has become a contentious debate about who and what is to blame for the attack. He called on all levels of government to do more to prevent terrorists from attacking Americans, saying his administration would continue working to destroy ISIS. Shortly before the president spoke, the Arizona Sen. John McCain blamed the administration’s policies for the rise of ISIS and, in turn, the attack itself. Earlier this week, likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said the president “claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people.”
Obama blamed U.S. politics for Omar Mateen’s ability, despite having been interviewed by the FBI on three separate occasions due to suspected ties to terrorism, to purchase a firearm. He said though the motives of shooters in Aurora, Newtown, and San Bernardino, and now Orlando may have differed, “the instruments of death were so similar.” Now, he said, another 49 are dead and some 53 will have scars that will last a lifetime.
“Unfortunately, our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist or just a disturbed indivual like those in Aurora or Newtown to buy extraordinary powerful weapons and they can do so legally,” Obama said. “This debate needs to change.”
He said the families he met with in Orlando “don’t care about politics” and urged the Senate, where a 15 hour filibuster urging gun action wrapped early Thursday, to “do the right thing” and “save some lives.”
“Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families,” Obama said.