6 key moments in Obama’s evolution on gun violence

6 key moments in Obama’s evolution on gun violence

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton,” he said.


Since then, Obama has issued statements or given speeches after more than 10 more mass shootings. His reactions have steadily grown more political, more emotional – and perhaps most notably, more resigned.

On Thursday, after a gunman killed nine people at at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, a visibly frustrated and angry Obama took to the podium at the White House to declare that our thoughts and prayers are no longer enough to stem the tide of mass shootings in America. But he offered little in the way of legislative solutions.

Here are six key moments in Obama’s evolution of how he talks about our nation’s gun violence.

1. Tucson: Avoid political rhetoric

Jared Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and nearly 20 other people with a handgun on Jan. 8, 2011. Six were killed.

Obama eulogized the victims but warned against overtly political rhetoric.

“It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” he said.

2. Aurora: Remember the victims

James Holmes entered a movie theater on July 20, 2012, shooting and killing 12 people and wounding 58.

After visiting the victims, Obama spoke about about how it’s important to remember the victims, not the shooter.

“My main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment and will continue to think about them each and every day,” he said.

3. Newtown: A call to action

Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother on Dec. 14, 2012, and then 26 people at a nearby school, mostly young children.

Newtown marked a shift for the president, who wiped away a tear more than once in public statements on the shooting. This was the first time he promised “meaningful action” to prevent another such event.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He later issued 23 limited executive actions on gun control and called on Congress to pass legislation. Four months later, a bill to expand background checks and ban assault weapons failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

4. Navy Yard: Resignation and American exceptionalism

Aaron Alexis entered a building Sept. 16, 2013, at the Navy Yard in Washington and shot and killed 12 people.

This was the first time the president let on that he was somewhat resigned on the fight for gun control. But it was also one of the first times he emphasized a now-common theme in his speeches about gun violence: No other advanced nation suffers mass shootings like the United States does. He repeated calls for action.

“It may not happen tomorrow and it may not happen next week, it may not happen next month – but it will happen,” he said. “Because it’s the change that we need, and it’s a change overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Americans.”

5. Charleston: Waving the white flag

Dylann Roof allegedly shoots and kills nine parishioners at a church in South Carolina on June 17.

June arguably marked one of Obama’s darkest moments on gun violence. He essentially waved the white flag on gun control, admitting there’s not a lot more he can do.

“(At) some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively,” he said.

6. Oregon: Unfocused anger

A gunman kills nine and injures at least seven on Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

Obama is officially angry at the state of America’s gun laws. He gave a speech at the White House on the evening of the shooting that only a president toward the end of his time in office could. He urged – almost pleaded with – people who support gun control to demand their politicians do something about gun violence. But it was also clear that he remained somewhat resigned when it comes to any immediate action.

“(T)his is something we should politicize,” he said. “It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”

Philip Bump contributed to this report.