In the hours after Sunday’s Orlando massacre, a sombre President Barack Obama consoled a shocked and grieving nation.
Tuesday, an angry and forceful Obama also told Americans what they needed to hear – that the divisive and hateful rhetoric spewed by the likes of Donald Trump not only betrays our values but helps the terrorists.
It was Obama’s most direct and detailed denunciation of Trump yet, and it was absolutely necessary given how the presumptive Republican nominee has exploited the tragedy in Orlando. On Monday, Trump proposed expanding his ban on Muslim immigrants and suggested that American Muslims are protecting extremists in their midst.
“Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently?” the usually cool Obama asked, his voice rising. “Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”
“This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion,” he added. “And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalise people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect.”
Obama also responded with disgust to Trump’s continuing canard that the president is too politically correct to name the enemy as “radical Islam.”
“Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away,” Obama said. “If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”
The president rightly called for renewing the ban on military-style assault weapons – like the one used by the Orlando gunman and so many other killers in mass shootings – that expired in 2004. He also supported a bill to bar those on the no-fly terrorist watch list from buying guns. Some Republicans in Congress blocked it last December, a day after the San Bernardino massacre. They did so again on Tuesday.
“Enough talking about being tough on terrorism,” Obama declared. “Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.”
After the worst mass shooting in America’s history, that would be a good start.
The carnage in Orlando is also putting gun control front and centre again at the California Capitol. On Tuesday, three different committees heard a batch of bills that would fortify what are already some of the nation’s strictest gun laws. Among other things, they would close a loophole in California’s assault weapons ban, limit purchases of long guns to one a month and fund gun violence research.
Some of these measures may help, but they can be bypassed by crossing the state line or going online. Really effective gun control has to be national in scope, which means Congress must finally stand up to the gun lobby.
A logical step to address mass shootings is to renew the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004 under president George W Bush’s watch. It was so full of loopholes and exemptions it did not reduce overall gun violence, but the number of mass shootings plunged when it was in effect and more than doubled when it expired.