Saturday 16 November 2019

Despondent Obama laments the lack of political will to stop nation's gun massacres

US President Barack Obama: 'someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun'
US President Barack Obama: 'someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun'

Peter Foster

As he approaches the end of his time in office, it was a despondent Barack Obama who pondered America's long-running battles with racism and gun crime.

As America awoke to the news of yet another mass shooting, on the newscasts and social media feeds up went the familiar cry: "when will it end?"

Shortly before lunch, the US president provided the answer, and he did not offer any false hopes that the mass killings that now regularly mar American life will be stopped any time soon.

"Once again," said a visibly despondent Mr Obama, "innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun."

Two years ago, after the Sandy Hook school shootings that wiped out an entire class of primary school children in Connecticut, Mr Obama's voice had been edged with anger and a determination that this would finally be the moment when America said "enough".

But America didn't - the gun lobby succeeded in quashing any attempt at even reasonable gun law reform. As a result, this time Mr Obama could not even pretend that there was any prospect of change in the forseeable future.


"It is in our power to do something about it," he said, before admitting in the next breath that change will not come any time soon. "I say that recognising the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now."

Given the steady stream of massacres - Texas, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston - foreigners are often perplexed by America's continued attachment to its guns, and Mr Obama used their example to make his point.

These kinds of massacres do not happen in "other advanced countries" with anything like the frequency that they take place in America, he said.

This was a president approaching the end of his time in office, visibly conscious of the limits both of what was achievable, but also what he has achieved.

As America's first black president, Mr Obama has always trodden a careful line on racial issues, mindful of the need to acknowledge the progress that America has made on race relations, while not shying away from confronting the prejudices that remain ingrained.

All signs point to the fact that Dylann Roof's decision to shoot nine black worshippers in a Charleston church was racially motivated, and Mr Obama linked his crime right back to the Alabama church bombings in which four young girls were killed by the KKK in 1963.


More than 50 years on, America has elected a black president but, as Mr Obama acknowledged - and as the recent outcry over the police shooting of black teenagers attests - it still grapples daily with the history of slavery and racism from which the nation sprang.

"Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realisation of the American Dream," said Mr Obama, borrowing the words that Martin Luther King used to eulogise those four little girls, and reinvesting them with a dismaying relevance for today.

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