WASHINGTON — President Obama said after a meeting in the Oval Office on the Orlando terrorist attack today that access to “very powerful weapons very quickly” is “a problem regardless of their motivations.”
Obama and Vice President Biden met with FBI Director James Comey, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
The president told reporters that the early Sunday attack in which 50 people were killed was “devastating” for all Americans as “we all recognize that this could have happened anywhere in this country, and we feel enormous solidarity and grief on behalf of the families that have been affected.”
“The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community, I think, is also relevant…It’s important to emphasize that we’re still at the preliminary stages of the investigation, and there’s a lot more that we have to learn,” he said. “The one thing that we can say is that this is being treated as a terrorist investigation. It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet. All those materials are currently being searched, exploited, so we will have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making a decision to launch this attack.”
Obama added that “at this stage, we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally” by ISIS leaders and “there’s no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.”
“As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of home-grown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time… one of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet.”
The president noted that the killer, Omar Mateen, purchased his weapons legally with the three-day waiting period in Florida.
“But it does indicate the degree to which it was not difficult for him to obtain these kinds of weapons,” he said. “…We are also going to have to make sure that we think about the risks we are willing to take by being so lax in how we make very powerful firearms available to people in this country.”
“My concern is that we start getting into a debate, as has happened in the past, which is an either/or debate, and the suggestion is either we think about something as terrorism and we ignore the problems with easy access to firearms or it’s all about firearms and we ignore the role, the very real role, that organizations like ISIL have in generating extremist views inside this country.”
Obama noted that “organizations like ISIL or organizations like al-Qaeda or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality.”
“Now, we also know these are organizations that think it’s fine to take captive women and enslave them and rape them. So, you know, there clearly are connections between the attitudes of an organization like this and their attitudes towards tolerance and pluralism and a belief that all people are treated equally regardless of sexual orientation. That is something threatening to them. Women being empowered is threatening to them,” he continued.
“So yes, I’m sure they’re going to — we will find that there are connections regardless of the particular motivations of this killer, there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians, and unfortunately that is — that’s something that the LGBT community is subject to, not just by ISIL, but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world.”
On guns, Obama talked about “the usual political debate and the NRA and the gun control folks say that, oh, ‘Obama doesn’t want to talk about terrorism,’ and if you talk about terrorism, then people say ‘why aren’t you looking at issues of gun control?'”
“The point is is that if we have self-radicalized individuals in this country, then they are going to be very difficult oftentimes to find ahead of time, and how easy it is for them to obtain weapons is in some cases going to make a difference as to whether they’re able to carry out attacks like this or not. And we make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly, and that’s a problem,” he said.