In the six years that have passed since a gunmen opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, killing 20 first graders and six teachers, there have reportedly been nearly 2,000 mass shootings in the country. As the number of mass shootings has continued to mount in America, so too have the number of presidential speeches denouncing them. But President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama have responded to mass shootings in very different ways. In fact, Trump and Obama's remarks about mass shootings show just how differently the two men choose to tackle issues of gun violence.
Because there is no universally-approved definition of what constitutes a mass shooting, there's consequently no universally-approved record of how many mass shootings have occurred during either Obama or Trump's presidencies. According to a database put together by Vox using data from the Gun Violence Archive — which, in contrast to many other groups, defines a mass shooting as an incident were four or more people, not including the shooter, are shot, but not necessarily killed, at the same time and location — there have been 1,917 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.
But a database of mass shootings — defined as having occurred in a public place and having left four or more victims dead — compiled by Mother Jones, notes that 37 mass shootings occurred in the eight years Obama was president while 22 have happened since Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.
Whatever the number, both men have undoubtedly had to respond to mass shootings during their presidencies. In fact, The Washington Post reports at least 15 speeches came out of the Obama White House in response to mass shootings. But while Obama was known for delivering empathetic and, at times, emotional statements in which he urged action on gun control, Trump has largely sidestepped discussing gun control reform in his statements.
"Our thoughts and prayers are not enough," Obama said when discussing the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon in 2015. "It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America next week, or a couple of months from now."
It wasn't the first time Obama had responded to a mass shooting with calls for gun control. "I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country," he said in July 2012 in response to a shooting that left 12 people dead and dozens more injured at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Later that same year, in a tearful speech after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Obama bemoaned the lack of meaningful action to curb gun violence. "As a country, we have been through this too many times," he said. "Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
In contrast, Trump has often appeared to dodge questions about the need for gun control legislation in the aftermath of mass shootings. "We'll talk about that later," the Hill reported he said in October 2017 when asked by reporters if the Las Vegas shooting could have been prevented with stricter gun laws.
According to NBC News, at least 59 people were killed with more than 500 others injured when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 1, 2017, in what is believed to be the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's history. Although, Trump called the shooting "an act of pure evil" in a speech delivered on Oct. 2, 2017, he failed to mention guns or gun laws even once. Instead of calling for legislative action on gun control, he said "we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear."
Ultimately, President Trump offered only his prayers to victims and their families. "To the families of the victims: We are praying for you and we are here for you, and we ask God to help see you through this very dark period," he said. "To the wounded who are now recovering in hospitals, we are praying for your full and speedy recovery."
Trump offered similar prayers in February when addressing the nation following a deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. "Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families," he said. "Let us hold our loved ones close, let us pray for healing and for peace, and let us come together as one nation to wipe away the tears and strive for a much better tomorrow."
In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, Trump echoed a National Rifle Association (NRA) position that calls for arming teachers in an effort to stop school shootings. But it wasn't the first time that Trump has suggested that mass shootings could be prevented with more guns.
In November 2017, two days after a gunman with a history of mental illness killed 26 people at a Texas church, Trump told reporters that he didn't think extreme vetting would help end mass shootings. "If you did what you're suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago, and you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him, and hit him and neutralize him," Trump said. "I can only say this: If he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead." But studies show that when there are more guns, there's an increased risk of gun violence, even if it's the supposed "good guys" holding the firearms.
Despite his many, many calls for action and his emotional appeals for stricter gun laws, Obama was ultimately unable to move Congress to pass any legislative action on gun control. And while Trump faces growing pressure to address issues of gun violence from the student-led gun control movement that developed after the Parkland shooting, it's unclear if his inaction on the issue will come back to haunt him in the next presidential election.