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Navy Yard Is The Latest Mass Shooting During Obama's Tenure

Sep 17, 2013
Originally published on September 17, 2013 3:34 pm
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We're going to focus now on yesterday's mass shooting here in Washington, but through the lens of the presidency. Massacres like that one have become remarkably commonplace during President Obama's time in office. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on how these events have shaped the president and his policies on guns.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When President Obama spoke about yesterday's killing at Navy Yard, he described it as...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yet another mass shooting.

SHAPIRO: "Yet another" - those two words spoke volumes. In 2009, a shooter killed 13 people at an Army base in Texas.

BARACK OBAMA: These Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil.

SHAPIRO: In 2011, a gunman in Tucson, Ariz., severely injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killed six others.


BARACK OBAMA: Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.

SHAPIRO: In 2012, both presidential candidates suspended campaigning to mark a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12.


BARACK OBAMA: Life is very fragile. Our time here is limited, and it is precious.

SHAPIRO: In his first term, these events shaped the president's schedule but not his policy agenda. In 2009, Obama signed a bill letting people carry loaded guns in most national parks. In 2010, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama straight Fs on its report card. In mid-2012, the website PolitiFact wrote: We couldn't find a word about gun policies on Obama's re-election website.

Everything changed at the end of last year. On Dec. 14th in Newtown, Conn., a gunman killed 26 people, most of them elementary school students. Obama spoke to NBC's "Meet the Press" two weeks later.


BARACK OBAMA: You know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated.

SHAPIRO: He promised to put the full weight of his office behind pursuing a new gun law - and he did. This issue he had not campaigned on suddenly became his top priority. Even first lady Michelle Obama gave a rare political speech in her hometown of Chicago. She remembered 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed by a stray bullet a week after performing at Obama's inauguration.


MICHELLE OBAMA: We read that story day after day, month after month, year after year in this city, and around this country.

SHAPIRO: That week, the Senate began to debate a bipartisan gun bill to expand background checks. It was far more modest than what Obama wanted, but the bill had overwhelming public support. Still, it only got 54 votes in the Senate - a majority, but not enough to overcome a filibuster.

President Obama was furious. He stepped into the White House Rose Garden with the families of Newtown victims and raged against Washington, Congress and lobbyists.


BARACK OBAMA: The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.

SHAPIRO: On that day, he promised to keep fighting. And a couple of months later, Vice President Biden said he was getting phone calls from senators who wanted to change their vote. But President Obama more or less stopped talking publicly about guns. And last week, Colorado voters recalled two Democratic state lawmakers who supported gun control measures, replacing them with Republicans who support broader gun rights.

Then came yesterday's shooting at Navy Yard. President Obama did not mention gun legislation in his remarks. Instead, he paid tribute to the victims and their families.

BARACK OBAMA: And they know the dangers of serving abroad. But today, they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn't have expected here at home.

SHAPIRO: The White House appears reluctant to restart this debate. When spokesman Jay Carney was repeatedly asked about the president's plans for gun legislation, Carney answered that Obama's position on the issue has not changed.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.