At Orlando’s Pulse memorial, Obama pushes gun control
US Congress urged to make it harder for people to buy weapons like the one used in Sunday’s killings in Florida gay bar.
US President Barack Obama has met the survivors of Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay bar in Florida and relatives of the 49 people killed there and said that the United States must act to control gun violence and fight what he called homegrown terrorism.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Orlando on Thursday, four days after a US-born gunman claiming allegiance to various armed groups carried out the deadliest mass shooting in recent memory.
“I held and hugged grieving family members and parents, and they asked, ‘Why does this keep happening?’,” Obama said.
He urged Congress to pass measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used in the attack at the Pulse nightclub.
INSIDE STORY – Orlando shooting: Who defines terrorism?
“I’m pleased to hear that the senate will hold votes on preventing individuals with possible terrorist ties from buying guns,” he said.
Obama, who has visited mass shooting victims’ families in towns from San Bernardino, California, to Newtown, Connecticut, since he has been president, later laid flowers at a memorial for the victims of the attack on the nightclub.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Orlando, said: “After each mass shooting, there has been talk that the US Congress could impose some restrictions on guns only to see them fail.
“But, supporters of gun control hope that the fact that there have been so many mass murders, this time will be different.”
The Senate leadership has promised that there will be votes on two bills: one to expand background checks on all gun sales, the other to ban people on the “no-fly list” from buying a gun.
But it is not clear the bills have the votes to pass. Furthermore, Paul Ryan, the leader of the opposition Republicans and Speaker of the House of Representatives, said “he has reservations”.
“As the FBI director just told us the other day, and I think he said it publicly as well, if we do this wrong like the president is proposing, we could actually blow our ongoing terrorist investigations,” he said.
“So we want to get this right.”
However, our correspondent said that many of the people she had spoken to did not think that the tragedy would lead to any change at all in gun laws.
“The president has warned if Congress doesn’t act, there will be another massacre,” she said.
“We’ll find out early next week when the Senate takes up the issue.”
It was reported on Thursday that during the shooting rampage, the attacker, Omar Mateen, exchanged text messages with his wife, posted on Facebook and placed a phone call to a television station.
Police killed Mateen, 29, a US citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrants.
READ MORE: Outpouring of love in Orlando
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack but US officials have said that they do not believe Mateen was assisted from abroad.
John Brennan, CIA’s director, told a US Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday that the agency had “not been able to uncover any direct link” between Mateen and fighters abroad.
A married couple also claiming allegiance to ISIL, also known as ISIS, shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.