It was easy to miss this week, eclipsed by major news including Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat and the mounting chaos in Iraq, but on Tuesday, President Obama made some of his starkest comments yet on America’s epidemic of gun violence. In an hour-long Q&A with the CEO of Tumblr at the White House—an event focused on education, student debt, and related issues—the president was at one point asked a question about the massacre in Santa Barbara and other incidents in the latest flurry of high-profile gun rampages. He went off for almost eight minutes. In the nearly six years of his presidency, he said, “My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.”
Below read the full transcript of Obama’s remarks on gun violence:
TUMBLR CEO: This one was sent in a few days ago: “Mr. President, my name is Nick Dineen, and I attend school at the University of California-Santa Barbara. I was the RA for the floor that George Chen lived on last year as a first-year college student. I knew him. Elliot Rodger killed him and five more of my fellow students. Today, another man has shot and killed at least one person and injured three others at a private Christian school in Seattle. What are you going to do? What can we all do?” And of course, another mass shooting this morning.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have to say that people often ask me how has it been being president, and what am I proudest of and what are my biggest disappointments. And I’ve got two and a half years left. My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.
We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this. A couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that’s it—we’re not seeing that again. And basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws. And they haven’t had a mass shooting since.
Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this. Now, we have a different tradition. We have a Second Amendment. We have historically respected gun rights. I respect gun rights. But the idea that, for example, we couldn’t even get a background check bill in to make sure that if you’re going to buy a weapon you have to actually go through a fairly rigorous process so that we know who you are, so you can’t just walk up to a store and buy a semi-automatic weapon—it makes no sense.
And I don’t know if anybody saw the brief press conference from the father of the young man who had been killed at Santa Barbara. And as a father myself, I just could not understand the pain he must be going through and just the primal scream that he gave out—why aren’t we doing something about this?
And I will tell you, I have been in Washington for a while now and 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. And so the question then becomes what can we do about it. The only thing that is going to change is public opinion. If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change. I’ve initiated over 20 executive actions to try to tighten up some of the rules in the laws, but the bottom line is, is that we don’t have enough tools right now to really make as big of a dent as we need to.
And most members of Congress—and I have to say, to some degree, this is bipartisan—are terrified of the NRA. The combination of the NRA and gun manufacturers are very well financed and have the capacity to move votes in local elections and congressional elections. And so if you’re running for office right now, that’s where you feel the heat. And people on the other side may be generally favorable towards things like background checks and other commonsense rules but they’re not as motivated. So that’s not—that doesn’t end up being the issue that a lot of you vote on.
And until that changes, until there is a fundamental shift in public opinion in which people say, enough, this is not acceptable, this is not normal, this isn’t sort of the price we should be paying for our freedom, that we can have respect for the Second Amendment and responsible gun owners and sportsmen and hunters can have the ability to possess weapons but that we are going to put some commonsense rules in place that make a dent, at least, in what’s happening—until that is not just the majority of you—because that’s already the majority of you, even the majority of gun owners believe that. But until that’s a view that people feel passionately about and are willing to go after folks who don’t vote reflecting those values, until that happens, sadly, not that much is going to change.
The last thing I’ll say: A lot of people will say that, well, this is a mental-health problem, it’s not a gun problem. The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. [Laughter.] It’s not the only country that has psychosis. And yet, we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anyplace else. Well, what’s the difference? The difference is, is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses and that’s sort of par for the course.
So the country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me. And I am prepared to work with anybody, including responsible sportsmen and gun owners, to craft some solutions. But right now, it’s not even possible to get even the mildest restrictions through Congress, and we should be ashamed of that.