GREENVILLE, S.C. » Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and other Republicans declared their opposition to stiffer gun laws Friday in the aftermath of the Oregon college mass shooting, while Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called for a national movement to counter the power of the National Rifle Association.
Bush said more government isn’t always the answer whenever tragedy strikes — "stuff happens, there’s always a crisis." President Barack Obama called him out on that remark, which Bush said was not about the Oregon shooting. "I think the American people should hear that," Obama said, and "can decide whether or not they consider that ‘stuff happening.’"
Clinton told supporters at a South Florida community college that she would willingly take on the NRA in a bid to achieve "new, effective gun control measures."
"What is wrong with us," Clinton asked, "that we can’t stand up to the NRA, to the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers they represent?"
Bush referred to the shooting that left 10 dead at the Oregon community college, including the gunman, while answering questions from South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. The Republican attorney general, who hosted Bush at Furman University, first asked Bush about his stance on the Second Amendment, without reference to the school killings.
Emphasizing that he supports the Supreme Court’s affirmation of bearing arms as an individual right, Bush talked about the many Floridians who have concealed-weapons permits and recalled receiving an award from the NRA. "Charlton Heston gave me a gun on stage in front of 15,000 people," he said. "That was pretty cool, to be honest with you."
Turning to the Oregon killings, he called them "heartbreaking" but added that "the impulse in Washington is to take people’s civil rights away from us, and it won’t solve the problem."
Wilson followed-up with his own reference to mass shootings, and Bush continued, "We’re at a difficult time in our country, and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this.
"It’s very sad to see, but I resist the notion — I had this challenge as governor — we have — stuff happens, there’s always a crisis, and the impulse is to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do."
Asked later about his comments, he told reporters they were "not related to Oregon — just clarity here." He appeared sensitive to the possibility of his comments becoming a controversy in themselves.
"Let’s make sure here that we don’t allow this to get out of control," he said. "There are all sorts of things that happen in life." He cited a child drowning in a pool whose parents then want legislative action. "Sometimes, you’re imposing solutions to problems, and it doesn’t fix the problem and takes away people’s liberty and rights,"Bush said. "That was the point I was trying to make."
To be sure, Bush’s Republican rivals echoed his bottom line.
"Before we start calling for more laws, I think we ought to consider why we don’t enforce the laws that we have?" Carly Fiorina said in Aiken, South Carolina. She said Obama’s response was "premature at best and at worst a really unfortunate politicization of this tragedy."
For Clinton, it was an opportunity to draw a clear distinction. She called Thursday’s mass murder "sickening" and said people should not be "afraid to go to college, a movie theater, Bible study."
The NRA, she said, "counts on really having an intense and dedicated group to scare politicians who say ‘we will vote against you.’"
She credited her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for taking on the NRA and achieving tougher gun controls, and said, to roaring applause, "We are going to take them on again."
Obama spoke of a mismatch between Americans’ willingness to tighten gun laws and the powerful influence of pro-gun groups.
"They know how to scare politicians," Obama said. "The American people are going to have to match them in their sense of urgency if we’re going to actually stop this."
He said the Republican Party is "just uniformly opposed to all gun safety laws." He also suggested some of the opposition was personal, driven by critics who think any gun laws "are an assault on freedom or communistic or a plot by me to take over" and stay in power forever.
Even so, Democrats, too, have been a hard sell on gun control in Congress, an issue they have rarely pushed for years because it has been regarded as troublesome.
Bustos reported from Davie, Florida. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington, Meg Kinnard in Aiken, South Carolina, and Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.