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Obama urges new gun laws following Florida mass shooting

At least 53 others were wounded in what is now known as the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

This handout photo provided by the Orlando Police Department on 12 June, 2016 shows Orlando, Florida police chief John Mina(R) speaking at a press conference following a mass shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando as mayor Buddy Dyer looks on. An estimated 20 people were killed at a gay nightclub after a heavily armed gunman seized hostages early June 12, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue, officials said. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - United States (US) President Barack Obama has encouraged new gun laws after a mass shooting in Florida at the weekend in which 50 people were killed.

At least 53 others were wounded in what is now known as the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Obama has called the shooting an act of terror, saying it's a reminder of how easy it is for someone to get hold of a weapon that could kill people.

Police killed the gunman, who was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a New York-born Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan and had twice been questioned by FBI agents in recent years, authorities said.

Obama said the FBI will lead the investigation to find out why Mateen carried the attack.

"What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days we'll uncover why and how this happened and we'll go wherever the facts lead us."

Mateen's former wife described him as emotionally and mentally disturbed with a violent temper, yet who aspired to be a police officer. He also worked as an armed guard for the security firm G4S, the world's largest, according to the company.

Law enforcement officials were probing evidence suggesting the attack was inspired by Islamic State militants, although they said there was no proof that Mateen had worked directly with the group.

As the shooting rampage was unfolding, Mateen "made calls to 911 this morning in which he stated his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State," said Ronald Hopper, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge on the case.

Shots rang out at the crowded Pulse nightclub in the heart of Orlando, one of the most popular US tourist destinations, as some 350 patrons were attending a Latin music event in conjunction with gay pride week celebrations.

WATCH: President Obama delivers a statement...

Clubgoers described scenes of terror and pandemonium, with one man who escaped saying he hid under a car and bandaged a wounded stranger with his shirt.

"Words cannot and will not describe the feeling of that," Joshua McGill said in a posting on Facebook. "Being covered in blood. Trying to save a guy's life."

Fifty-three people were wounded in the rampage. It ranked as the deadliest single US mass shooting incident, eclipsing the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

"We know enough to say this was an act of terror, an act of hate," Obama said in a speech from the White House. "As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage and in resolve to defend our people."

US officials cautioned, however, they had no conclusive evidence of any direct connection with any foreign extremist group.

"So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat (loyalty) he made during the massacre," said a US counterterrorism official. "This guy appears to have been pretty screwed up without any help from anybody."

The attacker was carrying an AR-15-style assault rifle and a handgun, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said. He also had an unidentified "device," said Orlando Police Chief John Mina.

The shooting was nearly certain to reignite emotional debates over American gun laws and homeland security in what is shaping up to be a vitriolic US presidential campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Trump.

The attack came six months after a married couple in California, a US-born son of Pakistani immigrants and a Pakistani-born woman he married in Saudi Arabia, fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino in an attack inspired by Islamic State.

That couple died in a shootout with police hours after their attack on a holiday party attended by the husband's co-workers.

At the same time, as America is reeling from the impact of a shooting at a gay club in Orlando this past weekend and Broadway stars added their voices to the calls for unity at the tony awards, which took place under a cloud of heaviness last night.

Host James Corden opened the awards in solidarity. Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit show Hamilton, which scooped the most awards, drove home the sentiment.

The Tony's were dedicated to the victims and their families.

Additional reporting by Reuters.