President Barack Obama said most issues don't surprise him after being involved extensively in Washington politics. But, he is stunned by the reality that the country's leaders haven't done anything about federal gun laws, not even after 20 six-year-olds were gunned down. "My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage," Obama said Tuesday during a Q&A session on Tumblr. "We're the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week. And it's a one-day story. There's no place else like this."
The event was largely overshadowed by other stories yesterday, but President Obama hosted the first-ever Tumblr Q&A live from the White House, primarily to talk about student loans and college affordability.
But because the gathering was being held just hours after a school shooting in a Troutdale, Oregon, high school -- the nation's 74th school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. -- the president touched on the subject on many Americans' minds.
The president added, "Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There's no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this." Indeed, Obama, clearly invested in the subject, spoke in "blunt and bitter terms."
The president explained that Congress will act once voters demand it, though for now, lawmakers are "terrified of the NRA." Until that changes, Obama added, until there is a fundamental shift in public opinion in which people say: 'Enough, this is not acceptable, this is not normal, this isn't, sort of, the price we should be paying for our freedom,' sadly, not that much is going to change."
He went on to say, in reference to Newtown, "The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and [Washington] couldn't do anything about it was stunning to me."
As for those who believe mental illness is chiefly responsible for the rash of gun violence, Obama said, "You know, the United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.... It's not the only country that has psychosis. And yet, we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else."
I've never been entirely clear on how opponents of gun safeguards respond to this.
I've heard the right blame violent video games, but plenty of other countries have gamers who buy the same titles. I've heard the right blame films and television, but plenty of other countries watch the same movies and shows. I've heard the right blame untreated mental illnesses, but there's no evidence to suggest Americans are uniquely unstable or violent.
After every high-profile shooting, the nation seems to ask the same questions and go through the same process, looking for answers and common denominators. There's always one conclusion -- ours is the only modern Western democracy that makes tools of mass violence readily available to its citizens -- and it's the one conclusion many policymakers refuse to change.
And so we wait for the next American school shooting, which if recent averages hold up, should happen in a week or two.