WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama escalated his call that dangerous people not be allowed to obtain high-powered weapons Monday, saying the country needs more “soul-searching” a day after a gunman used a legally purchased firearms to kill 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando.
In remarks in the Oval Office, Obama said the attack was an example of “home-grown extremism” that wasn’t carried out at the specific direction of ISIS. He was speaking after receiving a briefing from top law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey.
Comey himself delivered a statement to reporters after the meeting, reiterating the President’s position that the individual appeared to be isolated from but inspired by overseas terrorism.
“There are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations,” Comey said. “So far, we see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network.”
Comey also painted a picture of the individual as confused about what terrorist organization he was inspired by, at once declaring loyalty to and sympathy for ISIS, the Boston bombers and a suicide bomber who was working for another group, Al-Nusra, affiliated with Al Qaeda. He also in the past made comments to coworkers about Hezbollah.
While Obama vowed to go after extremist groups that have called for attacks on Americans, he also renewed what has now been an years-long push for laws making it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.
Acknowledging that his political opponents would criticize him for raising gun control after a terrorist attack, Obama said both issues need to be debated simultaneously.
“We are going 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,” Obama said. “My concern is that we start getting into a debate, as has happened in the past, which is an either/or debate.”
“It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and,” Obama said. “We have to counter extremism, but we also have to make sure it’s not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get at them.”
In his initial response to the shooting on Sunday, Obama made only brief mention of the country’s gun laws, which he’s tried unsuccessfully to alter since the deadly Newtown shooting in 2012, which claimed the lives of 20 six- and seven-year old children. He expanded his calls a day later, saying the fact the Florida incident was a terrorist attack shouldn’t distract from the conversation about guns.
“It’s crazy. It’s a problem,” Obama said of laws that prevent law enforcement agencies from being alerted when a person on a watch list purchases a gun.
“The danger is it ends up being the usual political debate, and the NRA and the gun control folks say ‘Obama doesn’t want to talk about terrorism,'” he said. “The point is if we have self-radicalized individuals in this country, then they are going to be very difficult to find ahead of time. And how easy it is for them to obtain weapons is going to make a difference if they are able to carry about attacks like this or not. And we make it very easy.”
Obama has pressed Congress unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would place tighter restrictions on gun sales. He has taken unilateral action, including a measure earlier this year that expanded background checks, but the White House says he’s exhausted his executive power on the matter.
CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.