The killing spree at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, that left at least 50 dead in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history was “an attack on all of us,” President Barack Obama said on Sunday, pledging to support federal law enforcement efforts to determine what motivated the shooter.
The gunman armed with an assault-type weapon and a handgun opened fire at Pulse, a popular gay bar and dance club in Orlando, at around 2 a.m. on Sunday. The suspect, who was shot dead by police, has been identified by law enforcement authorities and relatives as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen of Afghan descent from Fort Pierce, Florida.
The massacre hit a nerve on several of the hot-button topics facing the U.S., including approaches to gun control, global terrorism and immigration. It triggered competing statements from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his probable Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Trump, who called the attack the worst in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, said Obama should resign because he “disgracefully refused to even say the words 'Radical Islam.''' in his White House remarks. Trump accused Clinton of doing the same and said he had predicted such attacks.
Clinton, meanwhile, said “we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad” and reiterated her support of stricter controls on who can purchase guns.
“We need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals,” Clinton said. In an apparent reference to the assault-style rifle used in the attack, she said “weapons of war have no place on our streets.”
Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director, contrasted what she termed the Democrat's "comprehensive plan" to combat Islamic State at home and abroad with Trump's response.
"Donald Trump put out political attacks, weak platitudes and self-congratulations. Trump has offered no real plans to keep our nation safe and no outreach to the Americans targeted, just insults and attacks. In times of crisis more than ever, Americans are looking for leadership and deserve better," Palmieri said in an e-mailed statement.
Trump plans a "major speech" in New Hampshire on Monday to address the Orlando attack, immigration and national security, his campaign said in an e-mailed statement. Clinton will speak about the shooting, and the steps she would take to keep Americans safe, at an event in Cleveland on Monday and at subsequent campaign stops.
Both Clinton and Obama called the shooting a hate crime, having come at a gay nightclub on a weekend when many cities are holding pride parades and celebrations. Separately, an Indiana man was arrested with a cache of weapons, ammunition and explosive-making materials at the Los Angeles gay pride parade.
“We will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear,” Clinton said. “Hate has absolutely no place in America.”
Obama said the attack is “especially heartbreaking” for citizens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. “It was more than a nightclub, it was a place of solidarity,” he said of the shooting venue.
It is also a reminder of how easy it is to obtain weapons under U.S. law, the president said.
“The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle,” the president said. “This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub."
“We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” Obama added. “And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
Clinton and Obama canceled a joint campaign event scheduled for Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin, because of the shooting, according to an e-mailed release.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Islamic State leadership has been urging attacks during the Muslim Ramadan period, and that local law enforcement officials had told him that the shooter had made known his allegiance to the group. “Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed, remains to be determined,” Schiff said.
The gunman called 911 moments before the shooting and spoke about the Islamic State, Ronald Hopper, an FBI assistant special agent in charge of the bureau’s Orlando office, said at a news conference.
The FBI had twice investigated Mateen for possible links to Islamic terrorists, closing both inquiries because it found no hard connections, Hopper said.
Until Sunday, the worst mass shooting in the U.S. was the 2007 rampage on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, that left 32 people dead and 30 injured.
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