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'Their Grief Is Beyond Description': Obama Meets With Families, Survivors In Orlando

President Obama hugs Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (left) watches, at Orlando International Airport on Thursday.
Orlando Sentinel
TNS via Getty Images
President Obama hugs Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (left) watches, at Orlando International Airport on Thursday.

"If there was ever a moment for all of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and everybody has dignity, now's the time," President Obama said in remarks during a visit to Orlando, Fla., to express his support for the victims of Sunday's deadly attack and their families.

As NPR's Scott Horsley tells our Newscast unit, "The president hopes his presence in Orlando will provide some support to the families of the 49 people who died in Sunday's massacre, as well as the dozens of people who are still recovering from the wounds they suffered."

"Their grief is beyond description," Obama said after meeting with families and survivors of the attack. "Through their pain and through their tears, they told us about the joy that their loved ones had brought to their lives."

He added: "These families could be our families. In fact, they are our families — they're part of the American family ... our hearts are broken too."

Obama called for unity and for working across political lines to stop militant activity. But he adds that "given the last two terrorist attacks on our soil — Orlando and San Bernardino — were homegrown, carried out, it appears, not by external plotters, not by vast networks or sophisticated cells but [by] deranged individuals warped by the hateful propaganda that they'd seen over the Internet, then we're going to have to do more to prevent these attacks from occurring."

Lone wolf attacks require "different kinds of steps" to prevent them, Obama said. He called for further restrictions on guns:

"Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist or just a disturbed individual like those in Aurora and Newtown to buy extraordinarily powerful weapons and they can do so legally. ... This debate needs to change. It's outgrown the old political stalemates. ... I've said this before, we will not be able to stop every tragedy. We can't wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in this world. But we can stop some tragedies. We can save some lives. We can reduce the impact of a terrorist attack if we're smart. And if we don't act, we will keep seeing more massacres like this because we'll be choosing to allow them to happen."

Obama called the deadly attack "an act of terrorism but also an act of hate — this was an attack on the LGBT community." He added: "Hatred toward people because of sexual orientation, regardless of where it comes from, is a betrayal of what's best in us."

As The Associated Press reports, the visit was also meant to "show some measure of unity from a political world that has largely used the tragedy to renew its fights over guns and terrorism."

Flags at the White House and federal buildings will continue to fly at half-staff until sunset Thursday, our Newscast unit reported.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.