Monday, 5 October 2015

Obama on Oregon shooting: 'Somehow this has become routine'

'This has become routine... We've become numb'
The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama said the United States had grown numb to mass shootings and faulted lawmakers for failing to take action, hours after a gunman opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Appearing in the White House briefing room on Thursday with a grim expression and a frustrated tone, Mr Obama challenged US voters of all political stripes to hold their leaders accountable if they wanted to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

"We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction," Mr Obama told reporters.

101: The School Shootings Since Sandy Hook
Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, there have been 142 school shootings. Like the latest Oregon shooting, 62 of those shootings happened at colleges. Read full story:
Posted by NBC News on Friday, October 2, 2015

There have been more than a dozen mass shootings in the US since Mr Obama took office. He and Vice-President Joe Biden made a push for gun control reforms after the 2012 shooting of children in a Newtown, Connecticut school that shocked the country, but were unsuccessful.

Mr Obama has blamed the influential National Rifle Association lobby group for that failure, which he has called one of the biggest frustrations of his time in office.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike offered thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Oregon massacre and their family members on Thursday, but a visibly upset Mr Obama said that was not enough.

Obama addresses Oregon community college mass shooting
Watch what a visibly frustrated, angered and saddened President Obama had to say about the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in southwest Oregon.
Posted by NBC News on Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine," he said. "We've become numb to this."

He asked news organisations to tally the number of Americans killed by terror attacks over the past 10 years and compare it with the number killed by domestic gun violence.

Using data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CNN found that from 2004 to 2013, 316,545 people died by firearms on US soil. Over the same period, the number of US citizens killed in terror attacks overseas as well as people killed in terror incidents in the US totalled 313.

The US Constitution guarantees Americans the right to bear arms. But Mr Obama said it did not make sense to argue that the Constitution prevented sensible reforms.


Massacre gunman's father calls for changes to US gun laws
The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2015

ROSEBURG (Oregon) • The father of the gunman who killed nine people at a community college has called on the United States to change its gun laws, saying the massacre would not have happened if his son had not been able to buy more than a dozen handguns and rifles.

"How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?" Mr Ian Mercer said in an interview with CNN at his home in Tarzana, California. He said he had no idea that his son owned any firearms.

The gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after exchanging fire with police officers who had responded to the shooting at Umpqua Community College on Thursday morning. Law enforcement officials said they had found another gun at Harper-Mercer's apartment, the 14th they had confiscated.

All the weapons had been purchased legally by Harper-Mercer or a relative, the officials said.

Despite Harper-Mercer's online interest in high-profile shootings and neighbours' memories of him as an enthusiastic gun collector who frequently went target shooting with his mother, the gunman's father told CNN he had not known that his son owned guns.

Harper-Mercer's parents divorced a decade ago and he lived with his mother. Mr Mercer said he had not seen his son since he and his mother moved to Oregon about two years ago, but said there had been no "disharmony or any bitterness" between them.

Adding a raw personal voice to the debate over gun control, Mr Mercer said the US needed to tighten its gun laws.

"It has to change," he said. "How can it not? Even people that believe in the right to bear arms, what right do you have to take someone's life?"

He would not discuss his son's mental health issues, deferring to the police investigation. "Obviously, someone who goes and kills nine people has to have some kind of issue," he said.

Standing on his lawn, Mr Mercer said the shooting had devastated his family. "But we're not alone in this," he said. "My heart goes out to all the families that were affected by this."

Harper-Mercer, a student at the community college, was armed with six guns, spare ammunition magazines and body armour when he walked into a writing class and opened fire on Thursday morning.

A new timeline of the response to the shooting showed that officers arrived five minutes after the first 911 emergency calls. Two minutes later, they had engaged Harper-Mercer. Two minutes after that, they reported, the shooter was down.


War veteran shot 7 times trying to block gunman
The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

ROSEBURG (United States) • An Iraq war veteran and mixed martial arts fighter was hailed a hero after blocking a gunman from entering a classroom, possibly saving lives during a mass shooting in Oregon.

Mr Chris Mintz, 30, who was studying to become a fitness trainer at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, sprung into action on Thursday when the shooting began, his family and witnesses said.

He tried to prevent the gunman - widely identified as Chris Harper Mercer, 26 - from entering the classroom by throwing his weight against the door. But the gunman managed to blast his way in and shot him seven times, ignoring his pleas that it was his son Tirek's sixth birthday. "He told him, 'please don't do this, it's my son's birthday today'," Mr Mintz's cousin Ariana Earnhardt told CNN.

The family said that Mr Mintz was shot in the back, abdomen and left hand and suffered two broken legs. He underwent seven hours of surgery and will be in a wheelchair for some time. "He's going to have to learn to walk again," Ms Earnhardt said. "But he walked away with his life, and that's more than so many other people did."

Mr Mintz was an infantry soldier in the army and served in Iraq, said his former girlfriend Jamie Skinner. "He's a combat vet. He's trained in crisis-type situation, and his goal was to protect," she added.

When emergency workers arrived, Mr Mintz was thinking of their son, who was autistic, she said. He told first responders it was his day to pick up his boy from school.

Mr Mintz's family has set up a GoFundMe campaign, hoping to raise US$10,000 (S$14,000) to help with his rehabilitation. It has raised more than US$520,000 as of yesterday.

While recovering at a hospital, Mr Mintz expressed concern for the others hurt in the shooting. "Hope the others injured and their families are doing well," he said on his Facebook page yesterday.

Friends and family said his bravery came as no surprise. "Heroism is only defined by coming to the aid of another human. That's what Chris was doing," Ms Skinner said.


US helplessness in face of gun violence

The divide between Democrat and Republican politicians on gun control provides a glimmer of hope of a way forward.
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2015

WASHINGTON • Every once in a while - especially when the case is particularly tragic, as it was last week in Oregon - a mass shooting incident in the United States makes the news in Singapore.

For outsiders looking in from a distance, the gun violence problem can often feel all at once foreign and inexplicable.

It feels that way because it just doesn't make sense that a country like the US cannot come to terms with what is an obvious problem with an obvious solution. If you have too many shootings, make it harder for people to get guns. Other countries have tried it and there are indisputable studies elsewhere showing that fewer guns lead to less gun violence.

Australia had its worst mass shooting in 1996 when a young man killed 35 people in a rampage. Strict gun laws were put in place and the country hasn't had a single mass shooting in the two decades since.

But perhaps what is more worrying this time isn't just the inability of the US to tackle a deadly problem, but the slow shift towards acceptance - acceptance that shootings are just a way of life.

The pledges of action that followed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 were notably absent in the reaction to the killings at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week. Rather, the prevailing emotions were frustration and hopelessness. What should be outrageous has become, in US President Barack Obama's words, "routine" for a people who have become "numb".

It's almost as if Americans are giving up.


Mr Obama's reaction to the Oregon shooting was perhaps the best indicator of how the mood on the issue is changing. Although the speech was moving, it appeared to lack the defiance of his remarks in response to earlier shootings.

In December 2012, after 20 children and six adults were murdered in Sandy Hook, Mr Obama laid down a clear marker.

"We can't tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change," he said then as he tallied up the major shootings in the decade before.

"If there is even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that has visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that - then surely we have an obligation to try."

There was a real sense in 2012 that the one silver lining from the tragedy was that the horror of it presented the best chance of a wake-up call for legislators on gun control.

A Pew survey a month after that shooting found that 51 per cent of Americans supported gun control, while 45 per cent wanted to protect gun rights.

Just before the shooting, only 37 per cent thought gun ownership was a safety threat.

Yet, just a few months later, everything seemed to take a step backwards. According to the Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence, by April 2013, five states had strengthened gun laws, while 10 states had weakened restrictions.

At the national level, laws tabled to ban assault weapons or impose universal background checks failed to pass Congress.

So when nine people were shot and killed in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, this year, Mr Obama's remarks on gun control had already started to sound helpless. Although there was still a pledge of action, there was a recognition that nothing was going to change.

"At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said.

" And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognising the politics in this town forecloses a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it."

By last week, he had detached himself completely from a possible solution, even as he launched a broad attack on every major argument from the pro-gun camp. In fact, Mr Obama even seemed to take some blame for the lack of movement.

He said: "This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction."


When talking about the relative success countries like Britain and Australia have had in getting their gun violence problems under control compared with the US, it would only be fair to note that America does have some innate disadvantages.

The first is the fact that gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right enshrined in the Second Amendment.

The other is the very American idea of rugged individualism. Distrust in the government is very much a part of the DNA for many Americans, which makes the task of disarming them all the more difficult.

That's not to say that these are insurmountable problems. After all, the logic behind the Second Amendment - to enable an armed citizen militia to rise up against an overreaching government - now no longer holds in the face of the US' advanced military apparatus.

Americans have also not shown the same vigour in defending other Constitution-guaranteed rights. The mass data collection conducted by the National Security Agency likely violates the Fourth Amendment - which prohibits unreasonable searches - but a majority of lawmakers support it anyway.

Rather, the real issue is how the gun lobby has manipulated those two traits to terrific effect. It may be difficult to fathom how one single-issue lobby group has had such a tremendous impact on the country, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) has proven itself a masterful operator. Its strategy? Divide and conquer.

Leveraging on the distrust many conservatives have for the government, the NRA has persistently pushed the message that any attempt at gun control is but a step down the slippery slope towards gun confiscation.

It also argues against the link between guns and gun violence and tries to cast shootings as a mental illness issue rather than a gun ownership one.

And given that rural conservative voters tend to form the core pro-gun demographic, the gun lobby has, over the years, successfully morphed gun rights into an identity issue.

It is no longer simply an idea to be debated but an American's stand on the matter now says something about who he or she is. Just as a true Republican must believe in smaller government, they must now also be against gun control.

As far as Congress goes, the NRA exercises its clout through funding, pouring millions of dollars into electoral races to try and defeat anti-gun rights candidates.

With those circumstances in the highly polarised climate that is currently gripping the country, it is difficult to imagine building a strong enough coalition or getting a large enough majority in Congress to beat back the influence of the NRA.


Yet, polarisation can be a double-edged sword.

As much as it has entrenched the NRA and contributed to today's helpless situation, it may also provide an opening to those seeking to push gun control.

As recently as the 2008 presidential election, Democratic candidates tended to steer clear of taking firm gun control positions, fearing it would alienate rural white voters in key swing states. In the 2004 campaign, then Democratic nominee John Kerry famously tried to embellish his Second Amendment credentials by going on a goose hunt in Ohio armed with a double-barrelled shotgun.

The fear is not completely unfounded. Mr Al Gore's defeat in the presidential election in 2000 and the Democrats' poor showing overall were largely blamed on his stance supporting gun control. Former president Bill Clinton's Bill that banned assault weapons in 2004 was identified as the reason for the trouncing his party received at the mid-term polls that year.

All that is clearly different today. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has unveiled an ambitious gun control plan. Her rivals Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders have both also made very strong remarks in support of gun control.

Gun control groups can also now boast more financial support than the NRA. In a 2014 report, The Guardian found that groups in favour of gun control raised US$21.3 million (S$30 million) over the past two years, compared with just US$16.3 million for the NRA.

Now these are very small things, and it would be unreasonable to expect any of this to result in a breakthrough, even if a Democrat wins the White House next year.

But it is at least a sign that the gun control camp may still be able to put up a fight, however frustrating and hopeless things can seem.

"Now, the issue of gun control has been debated a lot in the news this week."
Posted by Saturday Night Live on Sunday, October 11, 2015

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