In a rare prime-time address to the country from the Oval Office, President Obama made clear that he thinks increased gun control at home is essential to fighting ISIS—and terrorism in general. In the 13-minute address, Obama laid out the reasons why he believes the “terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase” in which “terrorists turn to mass violence.” While there was no evidence that the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California were directed by terrorists overseas, “the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization.”
"I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure," Obama said. But he expressed confidence that the country can “overcome” the threat. “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” Obama said. “Our defence won’t depend on tough talk,” he added. “Instead we will prevail by being stronger and smarter.”
Part of that defense must involve lawmakers and Obama called on Congress to take several steps:
1. No one on the no-fly list should be able to buy a gun. That statement echoes a forceful statement Obama made in his weekly address on Saturday on the issue.
2. Lawmakers should make it harder to buy assault weapons.
3. Congress should vote in favor of continued use of military force against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to “demonstrate Americans are committed to this fight.”
Obama was also adamant that there are a few things the country should not do:
1. “We should not be drawn into another costly ground war,” Obama said. That, in the end, would only benefit terrorists who can turn a drawn-out occupation to their advantage.
2. Americans also shouldn’t see the war against terrorism as a fight against a religion. "We cannot turn against each other by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam," Obama said. “If we are to succeed in defeating terrorists, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies.”
Obama was particularly forceful on speaking up against Islamophobia. He noted that, yes, Muslim leaders have a responsibility to push back against hateful rhetoric and "speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity." But Americans "of every faith" must also "reject discrimination." As part of an impassioned plea against discrimination, Obama criticized those who have suggested those from certain religions should get priority to be accepted as refugees:
It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.
Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co- workers, our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.
Ultimately though, the address failed to outline any significant shift in strategy in how the United States should go about its fight against terrorism, besides for a call to tighten the country’s visa waiver program to more carefully check whether those entering the country had been in a war zone. Obama made it clear he thinks the current path should continue, noting that it consists of four basic steps:
1. Military will continue to hunt down those plotting terrorist attacks.
2. Training of tens ofthousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces will continue so they can fight ISIS on the ground.
3. Working with friends and allies will continue to disrupt ISIS operations.
4. The international community will keep on working on a timeline for a Syrian ceasefire.
The use of a prime-time address has been widely interpreted as a sign that the White House is worried “the American people, distracted by the overheated cacophony of the campaign season, are not listening to him,” as the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe wrote.
This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.