President Barack Obama said Wednesday that “love tested by tragedy brings us together again” at Fort Hood after last week’s shootings that left four soldiers dead, including the alleged attacker.
It was second shooting attack in five years at the sprawling military base in Texas.
Officials say Army Spc. Ivan Lopez took a .45-caliber handgun onto the installation last week and killed three people while injuring 16 more. He then took his own life.
Obama responded to the attack just hours after it happened, saying he was “heartbroken” that such an incident could happen again at Fort Hood, where in 2009 an Army major killed 13 people and wounded 32.
Speaking at a memorial service for the victims, Obama said the latest incident “tears at wounds still raw from five years ago.”
It was then that Obama first assumed the “consoler-in-chief” role that has now become familiar.
He’s helped comfort families who lost loved ones to natural disasters, building explosions and terror attacks. Later this month Obama travels to Washington State, where he’ll tour damage from a landslide that took more than 30 lives.
But it is visits to memorials after mass shootings – from Aurora, Colorado, to Newtown, Connecticut – that have come to represent the nation’s seeming inability to end mass shootings. Such stops have come during nearly every year of Obama’s presidency, even as he’s taken steps to reduce gun violence.
After each incident, groups of Americans have called for tighter gun control laws they say could help reduce the number of Americans killed in shootings. Similar calls have been made for greater access to mental health care.
Despite the outcry, Congress has so far been unable to pass new gun restrictions. The effort that came closest, a measure that would require universal background checks on gun sales, failed in the Senate last year.
Without lawmakers’ support, the President’s signed dozens of unilateral executive actions meant to quell gun violence, though broad actions — like banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines — still require Congressional approval.
Perhaps nothing embodies the frustrated efforts to end gun violence better than Obama’s return on Wednesday to Fort Hood, where he’ll speak from nearly the exact same spot, in the same role, as he did in 2009.
The President’s spokesman said on Tuesday that visits to the sites of tragedy, including Fort Hood, never become rote for Obama.
“It is true that the President has attended ceremonies and services of this nature in the past, but they never become routine,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “The pain of the family members who lost loved ones is not routine. It’s unique in each case and each instance. And I think the president is heartbroken by this event, as he has been on each occasion that something like this has happened in the country.”
In the years since the last Fort Hood shooting, Obama’s administration has confronted what officials describe as a mental health crisis within the military.
American armed forces returning home following drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan have grappled with stress disorders, depression and other mental health conditions brought on by combat, and face an overloaded support system the military is urgently trying to remedy.
Officials said Lopez was taking medication for depression and anxiety and was being screened for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though they declined to link his mental health to the shooting spree.
Obama has spoken forcefully on the need for better mental health resources at military installations like Fort Hood, though high demand for help has created a backlog.
Carney said last week the White House wasn’t yet satisfied that returning troops were being fully served.
And Obama said on Wednesday that he would ensure that “we will continue to step up efforts” to help soldiers returning from war and that we “never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.”