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Politicians hold line on gun control after Oregon shooting

President Barack Obama discussed the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon Thursday.
President Barack Obama discussed the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon Thursday.Zach Gibson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Another mass murder in America, this time a shooting spree that claimed nine lives in Oregon along with the gunman, thrust itself Friday into the national political debate, but it quickly became apparent that the latest bloodshed would do little to ease a partisan standoff over gun control.

Instead, the rampage at Umpqua Community College probably will be added to Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; and Charleston, S.C., on the list of mass-shooting incidents that have failed to spur a federal government response, despite overwhelming public support for stronger preventative steps.

Pat Llodra, first selectman in Newtown, where 26 elementary school children and their teachers were slaughtered in December 2012, expressed frustration Friday that so little progress has been made toward “reasonable measures to control access to guns.”

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“We ought to be able to make the changes that are right and which serve the common good,” said Llodra, a Republican. “We lack the political and social will.”

In the aftermath of the latest shooting, presidential candidates quickly expressed their shock, sorrow, and disapproval in a cascade of tweets.

“Praying for Umpqua Community College, the victims, and families impacted by this senseless tragedy,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush wrote on Twitter. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ohio Governor John Kasich offered almost identical responses.

But quickly, all sides diverted to their usual corners, resorting to partisan talking points despite President Obama’s plea for a common response to firearm violence.

Democrats called for more gun control measures. Republicans said guns weren’t the problem.

“Look, stuff happens,” Bush said Friday at a forum in South Carolina, as Oregon residents were still expressing their profound shock. “There’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

Donald Trump, the front-running contender for the Republican nomination for president, also suggested there was little government or society could do.

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“You’re always going to have problems,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It can happen all over the world. And it does.”

The gunman Thursday was a 26-year-old man described as lonely and angry, but there had not yet been reports he was diagnosed with a mental illness. Authorities said they recovered six weapons at the community college and seven at his nearby apartment, all purchased legally.

Ben Carson, who is in second place in the Republican nominating contest in many polls, observed that such shootings are “really quite unfortunately common now.” But he emphasized that people were the problem, not the weapons that they’re using.

“Obviously, there are going to be those who are going to be calling for gun control,” Carson said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “But you know, that happens every time we have one of these incidents. Obviously, that’s not the issue. The issue is the mentality of these people.’’

He said he was more concerned about efforts to register guns to the point where “we have to know where the people are and where their guns are.”

“That’s very dangerous,” Carson said.

Kasich on Thursday said more preparation must be done so that people can quickly react in an emergency, and more treatment of the mentally ill.

“But stripping law-abiding citizens of their guns — I just don’t know, I don’t believe it would get the job done,” Kasich told NBC News.

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Mike Huckabee was perhaps the strongest critic of Obama, accusing the president of jumping too quickly to make it a political issue while many questions about the shooter remain unanswered.

“Obama can shamelessly try and exploit any tragedy he wants, but it’s clear that gun-free zones are sitting-duck zones,” Huckabee said. “Gun violence is a problem in this country, but it’s not the fault of the Second Amendment. It’s the fault of evil people doing evil things.”

Some 92 percent of voters — including 86 percent of Republicans — support background checks prior to all gun sales, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released in July. Some 89 percent support laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns.

The US Senate in 2013 failed to come to agreement on compromise legislation to expand mandatory background checks for gun sales. The vote was taken in the aftermath of the Newtown incident.

The Senate at the time was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans, making momentum for gun legislation even more remote.

A visibly angry Obama on Thursday urged Americans to push back against their elected officials’ unwillingness to change the law.

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this,” Obama said.

Asked to respond to Bush’s “stuff happens” comment on Friday, Obama said at another press conference that “the American people should hear that and make their own judgments based on the fact that every couple of months we have a mass shooting.”

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“They can decide whether they consider that ‘stuff happens,’ ” he said.

Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who had introduced the failed 2013 bill with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said Friday he would support any legislation that would expand background checks to prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

But Toomey said in a written statement to the Globe that he is “realistic that the votes don’t exist in the Senate today to approve it.”

Just hours before Thursday’s shooting, 147 members of the House sent Speaker John Boehner a letter urging him to act on gun violence legislation. Just two Republicans — Peter King of New York and Robert Dold Jr. of Illinois — signed the letter.

There are some signs that the issue could flare during next year’s general election for president.

“I am just sick of this,” Hillary Clinton told WCVB in Boston shortly after the shooting Thursday.

Clinton said she would push for universal background checks and for requiring a longer waiting period.

“I think that what we need is a national movement,” Clinton said. “When gun control issues are put on national or put on state or local ballots for referendum, they pass in many instances.”

Senator Bernie Sanders also called for “a comprehensive approach” to gun-control legislation, one that “prevents guns from being used by people who should not have them.”

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Sanders voted against the landmark Brady bill that required background checks and a waiting period before a firearm could be purhcased, but he also supported the gun control package after the Newtown shootings.

In his Thursday statement, Sanders largely focused on expanding mental health capabilities and toning down “the incredibly high level of gratuitous violence which permeates our media.”


Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com. Tracy Jan can be reached at tracy-.jan@globe.com.