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Obama’s statement on mass shootings is a message for Republicans, Democrats, and the world

Image of Barack Obama in 2019 with his finger pointing up and microphone in one hand.
Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
America stands alone.
  • Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

Barack Obama is calling on all Americans to hold their political leaders accountable for failing to pass gun laws that would prevent at least some of the tragedies that have become so commonplace in the US.

Expressing his grief over the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that left more than 30 people dead and dozens wounded, the former US president said hateful ideologies and language historically have inspired violence worldwide. Yet the US is unique in several aspects, he said: “First, no other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States. No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do.”

Obama argued that, despite claims that tougher gun laws won’t stop all murders, there is evidence to show that stricter legislation could save some lives: “They can save some families from heartbreak. We are not helpless here. And until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening.”

The former president also pointedly repeated this last statement in a tweet linking to a Vox News story illustrated by an image of several Democratic presidential candidates and entitled, “Democrats have been discussing the same ideas on guns for 25 years. It’s time to change that.” The tweet came just one minute after Obama published his full statement.

Obama didn’t just blame guns or lawmaker inaction for the recent violence, however. He noted that the shooting in El Paso appeared to have been motivated by racist sentiment. Likening domestic terrorists acting on white-nationalist ideology to international terrorist organizations like ISIS, Obama said violent actors globally are being radicalized online even when they commit acts of terror alone. He called on law-enforcement agencies and internet platforms to “come up with better strategies to reduce the influence of these hate groups.”

Finally, Obama also pointed out the historical connection between divisive ideologies and violence globally. He argued that it is everyone’s responsibility to reject racism and any hateful language that comes from leaders “who demonize those who don’t look like us…or imply that America belongs to just one type of people.” This was clearly a reference to the inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric of the current president, Donald Trump, who today finally condemned the white nationalists he inspires but has been blamed for fueling a climate of hate.

Obama noted that the language of hate isn’t new and he drew a connection between dangerous speech and some of the world’s most horrific events. “It’s been at the root of slavery and Jim Crow, the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans,” he concluded. “It has no place in our politics and public life. And it’s the for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, or every race and faith and political party, to say as much—clearly an unequivocally.”

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