- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

As the White House renewed calls for gun control, President Obama will visit Orlando, Florida on Thursday to perform his painfully familiar role as consoler in chief for families of victims of the mass shooting by a radicalized Islamic gunman at a gay club.

The president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden will spend several hours meeting privately with families of the 49 dead, 53 wounded, and the first responders who tried to save their lives, to offer “a message of condolence and comfort on behalf of the American people,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

It’s a scene that Mr. Obama knows too well, from the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that he called the worst day of his presidency, to the arena-sized memorial service in Arizona in 2011 after the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords that was criticized as part pep-rally. In Charleston, South Carolina, last year, Mr. Obama mourned the nine black victims of a church shooting by leading the audience in a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

The president’s role offering comfort is “a responsibility that’s all the more important when you’re talking about the way that the LGBT community in Orlando came under attack,” Mr. Earnest said.

“Signs of support and comfort from the president of the United States should be a powerful affirmation for those American citizens,” he said. “The president’s life has been personally touched by his interactions with people who have endured terrible tragedy. The president recognizes that he is a symbol for the rest of the country, but it would be impossible for him not to be personally affected by these kinds of conversations.”

There have been 14 mass shootings during Mr. Obama’s presidency that he has addressed publicly, though not always with a personal visit. And while the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress are using the Orlando shooting to pressure Republicans to approve gun measures such as an assault-weapon ban, the president and his advisers seem skeptical that their efforts will get results this year.


SEE ALSO: Rick Scott: George W. Bush, Trump called after Orlando terror, but not Obama


“It’s difficult to imagine a more gut-wrenching, emotional event that would tug at one’s conscience more than the massacre of 20 first-graders,” Mr. Earnest said of the Sandy Hook shooting. “Even with that unspeakable act of violence tugging at their conscience, Republicans sided with the NRA. So I would like to be optimistic that this unspeakable act of violence [in Orlando] will sufficiently tug at the conscience of Republican senators. Maybe seeing the suffering in Orlando will inspire them with some courage to stand up to the NRA. Maybe it will help them put aside their political fears and insecurities We’ll just have to see if that’s what happens.”

The White House also scoffed Wednesday about the sincerity of Donald Trump’s move to meet with the National Rifle Association to push for a ban on firearms purchases by people on the government’s terror watch list.

“It’s unclear at this point exactly what his intentions are,” Mr. Earnest said.

But he added, “We would welcome support from anybody, including the presumptive Republican nominee,” for the additional restriction on buying a gun.

Democrats and a few Republican lawmakers are raising calls this week to impose the so-called “no fly, no buy” restrictions on gun purchases in the wake of the Orlando shooting deaths by Omar Mateen, who claimed to be inspired by the Islamic State and visited Saudi Arabia twice in the past five years.

Mr. Earnest said passage of a “no fly, no buy” proposal would prevent terrorists such as Mateen from purchasing firearms, and he said it’s the GOP’s responsibility to act.

“It’s on them,” he said. “It’s Republicans who are responsible if these kinds of common-sense measures aren’t put into place that would, for example, prevent a suspected terrorist from walking into a gun store and buying a gun.”

But it’s unlikely the legislation would have prevented Mateen from purchasing firearms. Mateen was under FBI investigation twice for connections to terrorism, in 2013 and 2014. During that time, the government placed him in the Terrorist Screening Database, also known as the terror watch list.

When the investigations ended, however, the government removed Mateen from the list. Even if the “no fly” legislation were in place, it would not have guaranteed that the FBI would have prevented Mateen from purchasing an assault-style rifle and handgun the week before the shooting.

In his job as a security guard, Mateen was licensed to carry concealed weapons in Florida. He passed background checks needed to buy the guns he used last weekend.

The president’s spokesman also rejected the merits of an earlier proposal by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, that would give the attorney general the authority to impose a 72-hour delay for people on the terror watch list seeking to purchase a gun.

Mr. Earnest said the proposal, which Democrats rejected last year, would “do very little” to prevent people on the no-fly list from buying a gun.

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