Obama: U.S. gun violence ‘off the charts’

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 10, 2014 

— In the wake of a shooting Tuesday morning at an Oregon high school, President Barack Obama spoke passionately about the need for gun control legislation while participating in a Tumblr question-and-answer session about college affordability.

“We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens, and it happens now once a week,” Obama said.

“The fact that 20 six-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me,” Obama added, referencing the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “The only thing that’s going to change is public opinion. If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change.”

In an event billed as a push for college affordability, Obama answered questions on a live stream on the White House’s Tumblr account alongside Tumblr CEO David Karp, 27, who asked the president about a dozen questions in the hour-long event.

Obama talked about his empathy for Richard Martinez, whose son was killed in a shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara, late last month. The president said gun violence in the United States is “off the charts,” but that passing legislation through Congress to restrict who purchases guns is “not even possible.”

“We should be ashamed of that,” Obama said.

“A lot of people will say this is a mental health problem,” Obama added. “The U.S. does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It’s not the only country that has psychosis and yet we kill each other in these mass shootings.”

Preceding the event, thousands submitted questions to a Tumblr online account created for the event called “ObamaIRL” _ the last three letters stand for “in real life” _ through 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday when the forum closed. Amid a weeklong push to reduce student debt, Obama also answered questions about the price of college and merit of college.

The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and Domestic Policy released a report on Tuesday that highlighted the benefits of a college education _ among them an average $28,300 higher income for individuals than those workers with just a high school diploma, and a lower unemployment rate for college grads _ 4 percent, compared with 8 percent among high school graduates.

“It continues to be a very smart investment for you to go to college,” Obama said. “There are very few jobs now where you’re not going to need some advanced training.”

Obama on Monday signed an executive order to cap student loan payments _ no matter when the loan began _ at 10 percent of the borrower’s income, starting in December 2015. His action comes as the Senate prepares to vote on Wednesday about a Democrat-backed bill that would allow individuals to refinance their student loans to the rate Congress approved last summer.

While this is the first event of its kind, the Obama administration has made several attempts to stay “in” with the so-called millennial generation.

There was his appearance on “Between Two Ferns,” a half-funny, half cringe-worthy attempt to promote Obamacare with actor Zach Galifianakis. And the online Reddit “ask me anything” in which the president reviewed the White House beer recipe. He has also had interactive chats on Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangout and WhiteHouse.gov.

Yet his use of Tumblr as a platform to host an extended video of his Q&A is a bit off. Although this generation composes more than 40 percent of Tumblr users, it is a platform designed to be easily scrollable-through, said Marc Smith, director of the Social Media Research Foundation, a non-profit organization that studies digital networks.

Pictures and .gifs (which the White House pronounces with a hard “g”) _ visuals that require no more than a few seconds to consume _ compose the vast majority of posts, Smith said. The White House even used .gifs of the president to promote the Tumblr Q&A.

With the “reblog” feature, which enables Tumblr users to publish another account’s post on their page, the posts associated with the Q&A, like .gifs and quotes from the live session, are more likely spread across the social media platform than is the video of the entire session, said Alex Leavitt, an Internet and media researcher at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism.

“Even though people may not put too much attention on one post, lots of people just reblog everything,” Leavitt said. “Even if they spend only a couple seconds looking at the post, it’s likely to still get traction.”

For a president whose time in office has coincided with the near omnipresence of social media, Obama’s efforts to connect with millennials on the digital platforms they’re most comfortable with have been notable, Smith said.

“The fact that they are there and in social media and using many of the channels shows that they are very much aware of where their audience and constituencies are,” Smith said of administration officials. Their social media use has had “remarkable levels of success,” he said.

Though the Q&A was the first of its kind on Tumblr, Obama’s likeness is no stranger to the micro-blogging platform: There are dozens of citizen-created pages dedicated to the president, including Obama “with babies,” “eating things” and, in a spoof that followed the NSA leaks, “checking your email.”

Obama poked fun at himself Monday joking that he is “hip to all these things” because of his adolescent daughters, who are 15 and 13 years old.

Email: shaven@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @stephaniehaven.

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