One of President Obama's biggest regrets during his five-and-a-half years in the White House is "the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns of the hands of people who can do just, unbelievable damage," he said Tuesday.
The president's reflection came during his first-ever Tumblr Q&A, slated to center on college affordability but which took an impromptu turn toward gun control in light of two recent school shootings. Earlier in the day, a male gunman opened fire at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., east of Portland, leaving two - the perpetrator included - dead; last month, a troubled young man mounted a rampage at the University of California, Santa Barbara that killed six.
Responding to a question from an acquaintance of one of the Santa Barbara victims, the president lamented: "We're the only developed country on earth where this happens, and it happens now once a week. ...I mean, our levels of gun violence are off the charts, there's no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.
"...The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people...and yet we kill each other in these mass shootings," Mr. Obama went on. "The country has to do some soul-searching about this."
It's an issue that's become increasingly personal for Mr. Obama. Eighteen months after a man from Newtown, Conn., who'd long exhibited signs of mental instability, got a hold of his mother's AR-15 style Bushmaster rifle and two of her handguns and massacred 20 first graders and six of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, not a single federal law curbing gun violence has passed through Congress.
Capping a year that saw the most mass shootings in U.S. history, Newtown seemed to mark a turning point in national conversation about gun control. Within a month of the shooting, Mr. Obama - promising to make the issue a hallmark of his second-term agenda - had signed several executive orders to make schools safer and gun purchases more transparent.
Like most hot-button topics roused by emotional events, though, the debate ultimately fizzled.
"Why aren't we doing something about this?" the president asked Tuesday. "I will tell you that I have been in Washington for a while now and most things don't surprise me. The fact that 20 six-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn't do anything about it was stunning to me. And so the question then becomes, 'Well, what can we do about it?'
"The only thing that's going to change is public opinion," he continued. "This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me. And I am prepared to work with anybody, including responsible sportsmen and gun owners, to craft some solutions. But right now, it's not even possible to get even the mildest restrictions through Congress. And we should be ashamed of that."