President Barack Obama met family members of victims of the Orlando massacre on Thursday, and repeated his call for tighter controls on high-powered firearms.
“We can’t anticipate or catch every single deranged person who may wish to do harm,” Obama told reporters after his session with the victims’ families. “But we can do something about the amount of damage they can do.”
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Orlando, where they placed bouquets of 49 white roses, one for each victim, on a memorial.
Family members who pleaded with him to do more to stop mass shootings “don’t care about the politics, and neither do I,” Obama said. “This debate needs to change.”
Unlike some of the president’s previous trips for memorial services after mass shootings, this one was decidedly low-key: no address to a large crowd, but simply what White House officials called “a few personal reflections” to the media after spending time with mourners.
Nevertheless, a crowd began gathering at downtown Orlando’s Amway Center hours before the president’s arrival.
The White House has worked closely with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to coordinate the visit, spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with the president, and did not want to overburden local law enforcement officials strained by the attacks.
The quick visit, though, was a way for Obama and Biden to show that “Americans stand shoulder to shoulder” with the people of central Florida. “There’s no more tangible way to show support than by traveling to the city where this horrific incident occurred,” Schultz said.
The shooting has quickly become fodder for the presidential campaign, but Obama’s visit had a bipartisan note. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined Obama aboard Air Force One to travel to Orlando. And among those greeting Obama upon arrival was Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Air Force One landed in Orlando at 12:45 p.m. Obama’s motorcade took him to the Amway Center. As it pulled up, a group of people entered the building, some with their arms full of flowers.
For Obama, the gathering reprised memorials like those after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 and Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Obama met with almost every immediate family member who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and the experience fueled his ultimately doomed effort to pass gun-control legislation in Congress in the months afterward.
Aides were also arranging for Obama to meet with survivors.