Almost immediately after a 26-year-old gunman opened fire on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon, killing 10 people and injuring several more, an all-too-familiar conversation about guns in the United States began once again.
President Barack Obama responded to the latest tragedy by venting his frustration at how routine such mass shootings have become.
"We've become numb to this," Obama said on Thursday evening. "We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun."
This sentiment has become familiar over the course of Obama's presidency. Last night was the 14th time the president has publicly responded to a shooting event, according to a tally by CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller. Obama acknowledged this fact after the Charleston shooting in July. "I've made statements like this too many times," he said.
Echoing Obama's admission that he is powerless to reform gun laws without the collaboration of Congress, groups against gun violence reacted to Thursday's shooting with calls for more gun control.
"Until those who support a sane national gun policy make their voices heard, such horrific events will continue to define our country," Josh Sugarmann, the head of the Violence Policy Center, said in a statement. He attributed the bloodshed to "our nation's unique inability to address our ongoing gun crisis."
In a call with reporters on Friday, Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that the response to the Oregon shooting "cannot stop at offering condolences."
"We have to demand elected leaders put our interests and safety ahead of the corporate gun lobby," he added.
Among the Democratic and Republican candidates vying for the presidency, the debate over gun control following the incident at Umpqua fell along predictable party lines. Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley both called for gun control on Twitter, while Bernie Sanders followed suit on Facebook.
Republican candidates offered their condolences, but none of them called for increased gun control regulations. Ben Carson said during an interview with radio broadcaster Hugh Hewitt that increasing gun restrictions would be the wrong response.
"Obviously there are going to be those calling for gun control, but that happens every time we have one of these incidents. Obviously that's not the issue," he remarked, putting the emphasis instead on mental health. "What I worry about is when we get to the point and we say we have to have every gun registered, we have to know where the people are, and where their guns are. That is very dangerous, that I wouldn't agree with at all."
When Donald Trump was asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about what he would do to stop mass shootings like the one in Oregon as president, he suggested that there is little that anyone can do to prevent sick people from harming others.
"You're going to have these things happen and it's a horrible thing to behold, he said. "It's not politically correct to say that, but you're going to have difficulty and that will be for the next million years, there's going to be difficulty and people are going to slip through the cracks."
Jeb Bush delivered a similar line when addressing the shooting at an appearance in Greenville, South Carolina.
"Look stuff happens, there's always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it's not always the right thing to do," he said.
In Greenville, South Carolina, Jeb Bush, arguing against calls for gun control after major tragedy, says,— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 2, 2015
The National Rifle Association has remained silent so far, although in the past the group has often responded to mass shootings by calling for civilians to be armed. After days of silence following the Sandy Hook massacre, NRA President Wayne LaPierre declared, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Dr. Bindu Kalesan, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University who studies the effect of gun violence on public health, said that there is a "national apathy" toward gun violence that prevents the implementation of any national gun safety policies.
"Every time a mass shooting occurs, we jump up and down, everybody is worried about it, and then it dies," she remarked.
Gun laws in the US vary widely between states; as a result, there are few nationwide laws tracking gun ownership or sales. Kalesan believes that implementing certain federal measures, such as universal background checks and a national gun registry to prevent illegal gun smuggling across state lines, is the most important step in addressing gun violence.
But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at an elementary school in Connecticut, Obama proposed stricter national gun control policies. They included banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and expanding background checks, but were defeated in the Senate the following year.
In fact, when gun laws do get passed, they usually loosen restrictions rather than tighten them. According to data compiled by the Violence Policy Center, of the 109 state gun laws that were passed in the year after the Sandy Hook massacre, only 39 strengthened them. The remaining 70 weakened them.
Kalesan compared the current attitudes about guns in the US to how cigarettes were thought of in the past. The tobacco industry lost much of its power after it become demonstrably clear that cigarettes caused cancer, she said, which is what she feels needs to happen with guns and gun violence.
"In order to grow our collective conscious about something that's not good for us, we need to have proper information," she said.
While Oregon has various gun control laws in place, the state does not require people to license or register their guns, nor does it ban assault rifles. Authorities revealed on Friday that the gunman at Umpqua, identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer, brought six guns with him to the campus, including five handguns and an assault rifle. A search of the home he shared with his mother turned up another two handguns, four rifles, and a shotgun. All of the weapons had been purchased legally.
The Douglas County Sheriff who led the local response to the shooting yesterday, John Hanlin, has previously made it clear he does not want tighter gun regulations. Mother Jones reported that he sent a letter two years ago to Vice President Joe Biden against gun control legislation following the massacre at Sandy Hook.
"Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings," he wrote.
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