- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2015

Despite mounting evidence that Islamist terrorists were responsible for the mass slayings in California, the White House said Thursday that stricter gun control could have prevented the attack and vowed to keep “scrubbing” the nation’s laws for ways that President Obama can take executive action to restrict gun ownership.

Noting that the killers in Wednesday’s attack were using four guns purchased legally, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it was an indication that “we should have made it a little bit harder for them” to buy guns.

“Why wouldn’t we make it harder for them?” Mr. Earnest said. “The president believes that passing common-sense gun laws that makes it harder for people with bad intentions to get guns makes the country safer.”

Mr. Obama and his aides urged Americans not to jump to conclusions about the role of Islamist extremism, even as the FBI began a counterterrorism investigation into the attack.

Investigators combing through the backgrounds of the two Muslim shooters, a husband and wife killed by police in a shootout, uncovered an arsenal of thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous pipe bombs, as well as recent travel to the Middle East and connections to known extremists.

With the nation still on edge from the mass slayings in Paris by Islamic State-inspired militants Nov. 13, Mr. Obama said authorities aren’t sure whether the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, were related to terrorism.

“It is possible that this was terrorist-related, but we don’t know,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s also possible that this was workplace-related. We don’t know why they did it.”

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office with FBI Director James B. Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Mr. Obama focused his comments on the need for gun control.

“It’s going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide they want to do somebody harm, we’re making it a little harder for them to do it,” Mr. Obama said. “Because right now, it’s just too easy.”

The two heavily armed assailants opened fire during a holiday party at a government agency for the disabled, killing 14 people and wounding 21 others. Police killed the shooters, Syed Farook and wife Tashfeen Malik, hours later.

Farook was a U.S. citizen, born in Illinois, and an employee of the government agency where the massacre took place. Authorities said he traveled in 2014 to Pakistan and that his wife held a Pakistani passport.

Asked about the possibility that Farook was “radicalized,” the president’s spokesman cautioned that he didn’t want to “jump to conclusions.” Then he recited a list of mass shootings in the U.S. that were carried out by white supremacist gunmen rather than Islamist terrorists.

“The manifestation of extremism that we have seen in this country has claimed innocent lives,” Mr. Earnest said. “We saw that extremism manifest itself in a terrible shooting incident in Charleston, South Carolina. We saw that violent extremism manifest itself in the context of a shooting [in 2012] at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. We saw that violent extremism manifest itself in the context of a shooting in a parking lot at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City.”

Mr. Earnest said one of the solutions is “to make it harder for people who shouldn’t get guns from getting them.”

“The second thing we can do about that is we can make it harder for those individuals to get their hands on assault weapons — on weapons of war,” Mr. Earnest said.

After receiving a briefing on the investigation from Mr. Comey and other members of his national security team, Mr. Obama confirmed some details that seem to point to jihadi terrorism.

“We do know that the two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their homes,” the president said. “We don’t know at this point the extent of their plans.”

Mr. Obama said a determination about terrorism won’t be made until the FBI examines the suspects’ social media activities and other electronic communications, conducts a large number of interviews and explores “the nature of the workplace relationship between the individual and his superiors.”

“I can assure the American people that we’re going to get to the bottom of this, and we’re going to be vigilant as we always are in getting the facts before we issue any decisive judgments in terms of how this occurred,” the president said.

The president urged Americans to take action against mass shootings in the U.S.

“We see the prevalence of these kinds of mass shootings in this country, and I think so many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t just leave it to our professionals to deal with the problem of these kinds of horrible killings. We all have a part to play.”

He added, “We’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — for individuals to get access to weapons.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said stricter gun laws “may or may not have impacted the shooting in San Bernardino or its lethality, but they would save lives in countless other cases.”

“While we do not yet know the motivation of these particular attackers, we do know enough about the nature of mass shootings to do something about them,” said Mr. Schiff, who also was briefed by the FBI.

He said among the “many reasonable proposals” in Congress, lawmakers should require a background check for every gun sale and restrictions on people with serious mental health problems from obtaining certain guns.

“Why does anyone need a military-style assault weapon with an extended ammunition clip for hunting or self-protection?” he said. “The simple answer is, they don’t.”

California has some of the most restrictive gun laws of any state in the nation. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives California its highest grade for gun laws, including background checks on purchases and a ban since 1989 on assault-style rifles.

The White House blames the National Rifle Association for blocking gun-control legislation in Congress. The NRA responded Thursday, saying the president was exploiting the tragedy.

“The National Rifle Association is not to blame,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative action. “Neither is our Second Amendment freedom.”

In an op-ed in USA Today, Mr. Cox wrote, “An act of evil unfolded in California. President Obama used it not as a moment to inform or calm the American people; rather, he exploited it to push his gun control agenda.”

“California has already adopted President Obama’s gun control wish list: ‘universal’ background checks, registration, waiting periods, gun bans, magazine bans and an expansion of prohibited gun categories,” Mr. Cox wrote. “But those laws did nothing to prevent this horrific crime from taking place.”

He said Mr. Obama’s “failed foreign policy has made us less safe.”

“And his domestic gun control agenda would jeopardize our safety even further,” he said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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