Orlando nightclub shooting: The speeches Americans need to hear again

By Rohan Smith of news.com.au

"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," President Barack Obama said in January before wiping away tears.

"And, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."

It's part of a speech he's had to give too many times since taking office in 2009. He's referring to the six-year-old children shot and killed at Sandy Hook. Most times, it brings him to the point of tears.

He's been angry, sad, despondent and desperate with the American people to change after other mass shootings. None of it has made a difference.

Obama has been in office for seven out of the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in American history. There was Aurora, Colorado, when James Holmes stormed into a movie theatre and shot dead 12 people. That same year, 27 people, including schoolchildren, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

There was Fort Hood, Washington, Charleston, San Bernardino. On each occasion, Obama presented a stoic figure. The main points are the same: "We have to be better than this", he says, but the messages have been stronger each time.

The first time Obama spoke at a mass shooting was at Fort Hood, Texas, in November, 2009. He was speaking for the 13 people fatally shot when Nidal Hasan, an Army major, opened fire.

He called the shooting "an act of war" and "incomprehensible" but used the majority of his address to pay tribute to the victims.

He spoke at length about each person killed. He talked about their background, their families, their jobs. He did not speak about gun control.

Between the Fort Hood shooting and the Aurora massacre, there were mass shootings at Huntsville, Alabama (three killed), Manchester, Connecticut (eight killed), Tucson, Arizona (six killed), Seal Beach, California (eight killed) and Oakland, California (seven killed).

At Aurora, Obama delivered his speech outside the hospital after meeting with those who survived the shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

Obama thanked emergency services for their work and spoke of the grief experienced by victims' families.

"Words are always inadequate in these situations," he admitted.

He did not mention the Second Amendment which affords Americans the "right to keep and bear Arms".

He said only that he hoped "over the next several months we all reflect on how we can do something about the senseless violence that ends up marring this country".

Perhaps Obama's most memorable speech came on December 14, 2012, when he said America's "hearts are broken".

He spoke briefly after the Sandy Hook shooting about taking "meaningful action, regardless of the politics" and said Americans have "been through this too many times". He spent the majority of the speech pleading with the public to hold their families closer.

On September 26, the following year, Obama promised to "investigate thoroughly" after the killing of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard military base. The speech followed a familiar pattern.

Obama promised to hold those responsible to account. He told reporters his thoughts were with the victims. He did not mention taking action to root out the cause of the problem.

Obama delivered powerful speeches after acts of terror in Charleston and San Bernardino. This year, he took meaningful steps towards gun regulation, despite knowing it would be hugely unpopular.

"All of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby's lies, all of us need to demand Governors and legislators ... do their part to make our communities safer, he said in January.

"We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us every time this happens, and feel like your views are not being properly represented, to join with us to demand something better."

While outlining executive actions, he said: "The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage now, but they can't hold America hostage."

Hours after the shooting in Orlando, Obama went further with that message. He played on America's collective conscience.

"Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history," he said.

"The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theatre, or in a nightclub.

"We have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."

His speeches provide some comfort, but real change would mean not having to make another one.

- news.com.au

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