Remarks by the President After Briefing on the Attack in Orlando, Florida
11:13 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I just had the opportunity to get the latest briefing from FBI Director Comey, as well as Deputy Attorney General Yates and the rest of my national security team about the tragedy that took place in Orlando. They’re going to be doing a more extensive briefing around noon -- just a little bit after noon over at FBI headquarters. So I will allow them to go into all the details, but I thought it was important for you to hear directly from me.
First of all, our hearts go out to the families of those who have been killed. Our prayers go to those who have been wounded. This is a devastating attack on all Americans. It is one that is particularly painful for the people of Orlando, but I think we all recognize that this could have happened anywhere in this country. And we feel enormous solidarity and grief on behalf of the families that have been affected.
The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant. We’re still looking at all the motivations of the killer. But it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.
With respect to the killer, there’s been a lot of reporting that’s been done. It’s important to emphasize that we’re still at the preliminary stages of the investigation, and there’s a lot more that we have to learn. The one thing that we can say is that this is being treated as a terrorist investigation. It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet. All those materials are currently being searched, exploited so we will have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making the decision to launch this attack.
As Director Comey I think will indicate, at this stage we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally. It does appear that, at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL, but there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL. And there also at this stage is no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot. In that sense, it appears to be similar to what we saw in San Bernardino, but we don’t yet know. And this is part of what is going to be important in terms of the investigation.
As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time. It also appears that he was able to obtain these weapons legally because he did not have a criminal record that, in some ways, would prohibit him from purchasing these weapons. It appears that one of those weapons he was able to just carry out of the store -- an assault rifle, a handgun -- a Glock -- which had a lot of clips in it. He was apparently required to wait for three days under Florida law. But it does indicate the degree to which it was not difficult for him to obtain these kinds of weapons.
Director Comey will discuss the fact that there had been some investigation of him in the past that was triggered, but as Director Comey I think will indicate, the FBI followed the procedures that they were supposed to and did a proper job.
At the end of the day, this is something that we are going to have to grapple with -- making sure that even as we go after ISIL and other extremist organizations overseas, even as we hit their leadership, even as we go after their infrastructure, even as we take key personnel off the field, even as we disrupt external plots -- that one of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet, and the capacity for that to seep into the minds of troubled individuals or weak individuals, and seeing them motivated then to take actions against people here in the United States and elsewhere in the world that are tragic. And so countering this extremist ideology is increasingly going to be just as important as making sure that we are disrupting more extensive plots engineered from the outside.
We are also going to have to have to make sure that we think about the risks we are willing to take by being so lax in how we make very powerful firearms available to people in this country. And this is something that obviously I’ve talked about for a very long time.
My concern is that we start getting into a debate, as has happened in the past, which is an either/or debate. And the suggestion is either we think about something as terrorism and we ignore the problems with easy access to firearms, or it’s all about firearms and we ignore the role -- the very real role that that organizations like ISIL have in generating extremist views inside this country. And it’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.
We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard. We have to counter extremism. But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get at them.
And my hope is, is that over the next days and weeks that we are being sober about how we approach this problem, that we let the facts get determined by our investigators, but we also do some reflecting in terms of how we can best tackle what is going to be a very challenging problem not just here in this country, but around the world.
Again, my final point is just to extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those who were affected and to send our prayers to those who are surviving and are in hospitals right now, and their family members hoping that they get better very soon.
But in the meantime, you can anticipate sometime around noon that Director Comey and Deputy Attorney General Yates will provide you with a more full briefing about this. Okay?
Q Mr. President, is there anything more to the LBGT angle to this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we don't yet know the motivations. But here’s what we do know -- is organizations like ISIL or organizations like al Qaeda, or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality.
Now, we also know these are organizations that think it’s fine to take captive women and enslave them and rape them. So there clearly are connections between the attitudes in an organization like this and their attitudes towards tolerance and pluralism and a belief that all people are created equally regardless of sexual orientation. That is something threatening to them. Women being empowered is threatening to them.
So, yes, I’m sure we will find that there are connections -- regardless of the particular motivations of this killer -- there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians. And unfortunately, that’s something that the LGBT community is subject to not just by ISIL but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world.
Q What are your thoughts about the fact that after all of these incidents over these years, that there has not been any move to reform gun control in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: April, I think you know what I think about it. The fact that we make it this challenging for law enforcement, for example, even to get alerted that somebody who they are watching has purchased a gun -- and if they do get alerted, sometimes it’s hard for them to stop them from getting a gun -- is crazy. It’s a problem. And we have to, I think, do some soul-searching.
But again, the danger here is, is that then it ends up being the usual political debate. And the NRA and the gun control folks say that, oh, Obama doesn't want to talk about terrorism. And if you talk about terrorism, then people say why aren’t you looking at issues of gun control.
The point is, is that if we have self-radicalized individuals in this country, then they are going to be very difficult oftentimes to find ahead of time. And how easy it is for them to obtain weapons is, in some cases, going to make a difference as to whether they're able to carry out attacks like this or not. And we make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly. And that's a problem.
It’s a problem regardless of their motivations. It’s a problem for a young man who can walk into a church in South Carolina and murder nine people who offered to pray with him. It’s a problem when an angry young man on a college campus decides to shoot people because he feels disrespected. It’s certainly a problem when we have organizations like ISIL or al Qaeda who are actively trying to promote violence and are doing so very effectively over the Internet, because we know that at some point there are going to be, out of 300 million, there are going to be some individuals who find for whatever reason that kind of horrible propaganda enticing. And if that happens, and that person can get a weapon, that's a problem.
11:27 A.M. EDT