In a speech on the Orlando nightclub shooting, what’s been dubbed as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, President Obama called for solidarity in face of terrorism and briefly commented on the availability of firearms in America.
“Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate. As Americans we our united in grief, in outrage and in resolve to defend our people,” Obama said hours after the incident.
The president said he was briefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and national security advisors. The FBI is heading the investigation, which is ongoing, and is treating the incident as a terrorist act.
A gunman — allegedly motivated by extreme religious beliefs and an anti-gay attitude — opened fire early Sunday morning inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando. At least 50 were people killed and more than 50 injured.
The suspect, Omar Mateen, 29, of Ft. Pierce, allegedly pledged allegiance to Islamic terror groups before carrying out the shooting. He died during an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement.
“This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” Obama said. “And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”
The president praised the quick and heroic acts of the first responders and fellow patrons on the scene who saved those injured and took down the suspect, but also commented on firearms in America.
“Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. 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 theater, or in a nightclub,” Obama said. “And 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.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the incident as a “horrific terrorist attack” in her initial statement and cancelled an overseas meeting with Chinese officials on cyber crime. Along with the president, Lynch promised the full support of federal law enforcement.
In a statement earlier Sunday, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, declared a state of emergency in Orlando at the request of the city’s mayor. The declaration will open up wider resources for the investigation.
“We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando. Our state emergency operations center is also monitoring this tragic incident,” he said.
Article updated 3:51 pm on June 12, 2016