Shortly after the Wednesday mass shooting in California, President Barack Obama called for stricter background checks and banning anyone on the no-fly list from buying a gun. However, asked if either of those policies would have prevented the shooting, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, "Of course not."
According to police, a husband and wife shot and killed 14 people Wednesday at a social service center for the disabled in San Bernardino, wounding more than a dozen others in what appears to have been a planned attack. The alleged shooters, Syed Farook, 28, and Tasfeen Malik, 27, were killed in a shootout with police. A man claiming to be Farook’s father revealed his son was a devout Muslim.
Shortly after the shooting, while police were still investigating the matter and the suspects were at large, Obama said in an interview with CBS News that Congress should pass laws to enact stricter gun control and ban anyone on the government's no-fly list from purchasing a firearm.
ABC News reporter Jon Karl asked, "Did he have any indication at that point that, if Congress instituted stronger background checks, it would have prevented this incident?"
Earnest responded, “In this incident, of course not."
However, the spokesman went on to argue tougher laws would keep guns away from dangerous people.
"But the president is confident, and I think common-sense-thinking Americans are confident, that if there are things that Congress can do to make it harder for individuals who shouldn’t have guns from getting them, then Congress should act and pass a law accordingly, because that law can be implemented in a way that doesn’t undermine the the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans," Earnest said.
Karl then asked about the no-fly list proposal: "Any indication at this point that either tougher background checks or doing what the president is proposing with the no fly list –."
Earnest interrupted, saying for a second time, "Of course not, Jon."
"But the point here is that it is common sense that if the government thinks its too hard for you to get on an airplane, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun," Earnest said. "It is common sense. And Congress, for reasons they can’t explain — or at least reasons I haven’t heard them articulate — can’t explain why they haven’t passed that law yet."
The exchange became tense as Karl followed up: "But the president made these comments specifically when asked about this shooting. So I’m wondering why he kind of immediate fell back to Congress needs to pass more gun legislation."
"Because the president is determined to ensure that these kinds of incidents of mass shootings aren’t considered routine, and he’s determined to press Congress at every turn to take steps –" Earnest said before being interrupted.
"But you just acknowledged that his proposal wouldn’t have done anything to prevent this incident," Karl said.
Earnest sternly said, "Jon we are talking about future incidents."
"If we want to make it harder to carry out these acts in the future, it’s time for Congress to pass laws that make it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them," Earnest continued. "I don’t understand — actually I do understand why it’s controversial. It’s simply because we’ve got too many members of Congress that are terrified of the NRA. Well, right now there are a lot of people across this country that are terrified of a mass shooting."
Karl didn't let up, asking, "What is the relevance to what happened in San Bernardino if the provisions you are talking about, as you acknowledged, would have done nothing to prevent this shooting? Why is it part of this discussion?"
Earnest said, "This discussion is about what we can do to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them."
Karl asked, "Shouldn’t the discussion be how to prevent what happened yesterday from happening?"
"That should be part of the discussion as we conduct an investigation and learn more about how these individuals carried out this act and what their motive was," Earnest answered. "That certainly should be part of the discussion. That’s why we’re conducting an investigation. We are determined to get to the bottom of it. That’s why the president summoned his national security team to come to the Oval Office today to provide him with an update on the investigation. So of course those facts matter and of course we are going to get to the bottom of what happened because we can learn from those facts what additional steps can be taken to prevent this from happening in the future."
Based on this response, Karl asked, "Does the president believe that tougher background checks would prevent terrorist incidents?"
Earnest repeated his answer three times.
"It could. It could. It could," Earnest said.
"How so?" Karl asked.
"It’s a hypothetical," Earnest said. "But it could."