President Obama acknowledged this morning in the Oval Office that Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino is “possibly” terrorism, calling for national soul-searching about guns while expressing strong uncertainty about the circumstances of the crime.
Meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and other advisers including Attorney General Loretta Lynch and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Obama pulled the press pool in to deliver his statement and did not take questions afterward.
The president began by sending “thoughts and prayers” to the families of those who were killed and the wounded. Gun-control advocates lashed out Wednesday at lawmakers who used those words as the crime unfolded, arguing that they should pass new laws instead of praying.
Obama said he spoke with San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis and “thanked law enforcement for their timely and professional response,” adding that “the entire country is thinking about that community.”
“At this stage we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred,” he said. “We do know two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their homes, but we don’t know why they did it, we do not know the extent of their plans, we do not know their motivations.”
“At this point, this is now an FBI investigation.”
Obama said “it is possible that this is terrorist-related, but we don’t know.”
“It’s also possible that this was workplace-related,” he said, stressing that investigators have to “understand the nature of the workplace relationship between the individual and his superiors.” Syed Farook had worked for the county health department for five years as an inspector.
Until more is know about Farook and his relationships, and “all social media and electronic information” surrounding the shooters is analyzed, the president said, “we’re not going to be able to answer those questions.”
“We’re going to be vigilant as we always are in getting the facts before issuing any judgments.”
Before Thanksgiving, Obama assured Americans “we know of no specific and credible intelligence indicating a plot on the homeland.”
Obama also hit today on the “prevalence” of guns and mass shootings in the country, noting “Americans feel there’s nothing we can do about it …we can’t just leave it to our professionals to deal with the problem of these types of horrible killings. We all have a part to play.”
That includes legislators “making it a little harder” to get guns “because right now it’s too easy.”
Obama called on Americans to “search ourselves as a society” and “take basic steps to make it harder to get weapons.”
“Our expectation is that this may take some time before we can sort this all through,” he concluded, pulling the topic back to the San Bernardino crime. “There may be mixed motives in this, which makes the investigation more complicated.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said earlier this morning that “as this investigation unfolds, we will be offering any and all assistance necessary to the local authorities and to the people of San Bernardino, who have been so profoundly affected by this unspeakable crime.”
“And let me simply say, that whatever the results of this investigation, we don’t know a lot right now. But one thing is clear, that violence like this has no place in this country and in this nation,” Lynch said.
“This is not what we stand for. This is not what we do. This is not what we work for. It’s not what we live for, it’s antithetical to our values.”
Obama said Lynch and FBI Director James Comey would be offering updates on the investigation as they become available.
Obama issued a proclamation today ordering flags be flown at half-staff through Monday in honor of San Bernardino’s “victims of gun violence.”