Washington (AFP) – US President Barack Obama denounced the country’s epidemic of gun violence on Saturday and renewed a call for tougher controls on military-style weapons after yet another deadly shooting, saying “enough is enough.”
The latest bloodshed came on Friday when a man entered a family planning clinic in the state of Colorado and allegedly opened fire, killing three people, including a police officer, and wounding nine others.
The motive of the suspect now under arrest was not yet known and police were to interrogate him Saturday.
The Planned Parenthood clinic located in Colorado Springs performs abortions, and the city’s mayor suggested that the deeply divisive issue in America may have been behind the assault.
“You can certainly infer what it may have been in terms of where it took place and the manner in which it took place,” John Suthers told CNN.
The tragedy came a day after Americans celebrated their cherished Thanksgiving holiday, a time to relax with family, and which ushers in the holiday season in earnest.
Obama said the suspect had been armed with an assault weapon — that was the first official word of this detail — and he also disclosed for the first time that the man had held hostages at the Planned Parenthood center from which he opened fire at people outside in an hours long standoff with police.
“We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough,” Obama said in a statement.
The gunman had entered the Planned Parenthood clinic around noon Friday and started shooting from a window. Police surrounded the building, and after an exchange of gunfire and a standoff lasting more than five hours the gunman surrendered.
Local police on Saturday identified the suspect as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear. News reports said he was from South Carolina.
It was unclear whether Planned Parenthood — a major women’s health and family planning group — was the shooter’s target.
Abortion is one of many services Planned Parenthood provides for women, and the association has become a lightning rod for criticism by US conservatives, among other reasons because it receives funding from the government for some health services.
– ‘Terrible tragedy’ –
Suthers also paid tribute to police for hauling in the gunman without further bloodshed.
The nine injured included five police, none of whom were seriously wounded, he said.
“While this was a terrible, terrible tragedy, it could have been much worse if not for the reactions of first responders,” Sutter told reporters.
The dead policeman was identified as Garrett Swasey, 44, a campus officer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who had raced to the scene of the shooting.
Officers were able to enter the building during the standoff and convince Dear to surrender, police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley told reporters.
Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, said she did not believe the center had been specifically targeted.
Critics, many of whom seek to outlaw abortion in the United States, have falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal organs and body parts for profit, and encouraging women to have abortions in order to expand such operations.
– ‘Heroism’ –
The national Planned Parenthood office praised “the brave law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way” in the incident.
“We are profoundly grateful for their heroism in helping to protect all women, men and young people as they access basic health care in this country,” the statement read.
Local media said that extra police were sent to protect the three other Planned Parenthood clinics in the Denver area.
Several people were inside the clinic at the time of the shooting on what had been a regular work day.
When the gunman opened fire, terrified people fled the building and ran out into the snow, some crying and pleading for help.
The immediate area around the clinic was placed on lockdown and people were told to stay indoors.