Gun violence again brings Obama to Fort Hood

CNN
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 11:15am

KILLEEN, Texas (CNN) -- President Barack Obama returns to Ford Hood on Wednesday to attend another memorial service for soldiers gunned down at the Army post in Texas, five years after making the same journey following a similar tragedy.

Officials say that last week Army Spc. Ivan Lopez took a .45-caliber handgun onto the installation and killed three people while injuring 16 more. He later 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 the week following the 2009 attack, the President for the first time 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's 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 2009, Obama used his remarks at the Fort Hood memorial service to individually eulogize each victim, who were symbolized during the ceremony by pairs of empty boots.

During his speech the President noted how American soldiers, some of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, deserved a sense of security when they returned home from war.

"Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home," he said.

Five years after those remarks, Obama will again address servicemen and women whose sense of security -- even within their own borders -- has been shaken.

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 the accused perpetrator of last week's attack 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.

"[Obama's] administration has been committed to upholding our sacred trust with America's veterans, its wounded warriors and their families," Carney said. "Absolutely, there is work that remains to be done."

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