Skip to main content

Exasperated Obama: Inability to get tougher gun laws shameful

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 2316 GMT (0716 HKT)
  • President says mass shootings commonplace in America
  • He said public opinion must change or "we're not going to change"
  • Obama spoke as nation reacted to another school shooting -- this one in Oregon

(CNN) -- An exasperated President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed new surprise and dismay at the lack of congressional action on stemming gun violence, hours after yet another American community was jolted by a deadly school shooting.

He said the failure to expand background checks on firearms sales was his "biggest frustration" as president, and called on concerned citizens to vent their anger loudly.

Obama said it was "stunning" Congress couldn't pass laws making it harder to obtain firearms in the aftermath of the 2012 elementary school shooting that devastated Newtown, Connecticut, and stunned the nation.

Friends, family and others hold candles for the victim of a school shooting at a vigil Tuesday, June 10 in Troutdale, Oregon, near Portland. A student shot and killed another student at Reynolds High School before apparently taking his own life, law enforcement sources said. Friends, family and others hold candles for the victim of a school shooting at a vigil Tuesday, June 10 in Troutdale, Oregon, near Portland. A student shot and killed another student at Reynolds High School before apparently taking his own life, law enforcement sources said.
Shooting at Oregon high school
Photos: Shooting at Oregon high school Photos: Shooting at Oregon high school
Student's parent: We just panicked
Student describes the Oregon shooting

Obama said the violence on that December morning amounted to the "worst day" of his presidency.

"Why aren't we doing something about this?" he asked during an online question-and-answer session on college costs at the White House.

"I will tell you, I have been in Washington for a while now. Most things don't surprise me. The fact that 20 six year olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn't do anything about it was stunning to me," he said.

Obama's remarks came hours after a student opened fire at a high school near Portland, Oregon, killing a classmate before turning the gun on himself.

The incident joined a list of dozens of shooting incidents at U.S. schools, campuses and public areas that have taken place since the 2012 Newtown massacre. Just Sunday, two police officers in Nevada were shot and killed while eating lunch.

"The country has to do some soul searching about this," he said. "This is becoming norm."

Ramping up restrictions on gun sales was a top priority of Obama's after Newtown.

A bipartisan measure that would have mandated background checks on gun sales failed to pass the Senate the following April, and other proposed measures, like a ban on assault weapons, garnered little support among lawmakers.

The failure of it all was seen as a major defeat for the President, who led the nation in mourning for the students and teachers killed in Connecticut.

Without congressional support, Obama signed dozens of unilateral executive actions meant to quell gun violence. Though broad action, like banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines, still require congressional approval.

On Monday, Obama said the United States was the only developed country on Earth where mass shootings occur with regularity, adding that "if public opinion does not change, we're not going to change."

And he shot down arguments that mental health was more to blame for mass killings than access to guns.

"The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It's not the only country that has psychosis," he said. "And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else. Well, what's the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses and that's sort of par for the course."

Politicians from both parties are "terrified" of the National Rifle Association, Obama said, saying the gun rights organization was well-funded and able to influence elections to prevent any significant new gun regulations from becoming law.

Late in the day on Capitol Hill, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer stood before the chamber and could barely get the words out about the violence earlier in the day in his district at Reynolds High School in Troutdale.

"In a scene that is achingly familiar, this morning at Reynolds a shooting occurred, a student killed, the shooter died, a teacher wounded," he said.

The chamber then observed a moment of silence.

Fast Facts: U.S. school violence

Part of complete coverage on
School shootings
What if police could pinpoint where a school shooter is? Some schools are betting on it as they install technology that will be wired to local law enforcement.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
After a shooting at an Oregon high school, many media outlets, including CNN, reported that there have been 74 school shootings in the past 18 months.
September 30, 2013 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
School security plans have changed to include arming teachers, adding police officers and armed security guards, and changing how schools are designed.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2224 GMT (0624 HKT)
Here is a list of incidents of random elementary, middle and high school (excludes colleges and universities) violence with fatalities, from 1927 to the present.
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Dr. Angela Sauaia intended to study the impact modernized playground equipment had on lowering children's injury rates. They ended up studying kids' injury rates from guns instead.
April 19, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Katie Lyles, who teaches third graders in Colorado, was a student at Columbine during the massacre 14 years ago.
May 1, 2013 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
What do you do with the guns in your house? This question appears to be one that parents are asking more often before sending their kids on play dates and sleepovers.
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT)
Opinion: Parents need to be proactive when it comes to their children's school security plans. Every parent should ask their school administrators the following questions.
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
When Nelba Marquez-Greene lost her 6-year-old daughter in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, she chose to cope with her loss in a unique way: by writing a letter.
August 17, 2013 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
A Maryland company that makes bulletproof whiteboards has contracted with a university seeking to offer its professors greater protection in the event of a school shooting.
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Along with math, science and social studies, gun safety could soon be part of the first-grade curriculum in some Missouri public schools.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Some parents say recent school shootings confirm the need to protect children and teach them to defend themselves using guns.
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 2257 GMT (0657 HKT)
The Dunblane massacre, which killed 16 children and a teacher, stunned Scotland, but what did the UK do to try to prevent such a tragedy happening again?
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)
Opinion: The AAP says the best preventive measure against firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun. However, if you choose to have firearms in your home, adhere to these rules for gun safety.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
Federal law makes it illegal to sell or give a firearm to anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution" but private sellers and gun shows have no background check requirement.
February 27, 2013 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Nearly three-fourths of the nation's teachers say they personally would not bring a firearm to their school if allowed.