WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is vowing to use “whatever power this office holds” to safeguard the nation’s children, raising the prospect that he will pursue policy changes to stem gun violence in the wake of an elementary school massacre.
“Because what choice do we have?” a somber Obama said at a Sunday evening vigil in the grieving community of Newtown, Conn. “We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?”
The newly re-elected president offered few specifics about how he planned to proceed, saying only that he will engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in the coming weeks. Just days after the shooting at an elementary school, Obama is already facing pressure from fellow Democrats and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to tackle gun control legislation, a contentious issue he avoided as he sought a second term.
But Friday’s shooting, which left 20 children and eight adults dead, appears to have spurred some soul-searching by Obama, who told Connecticut’s governor that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency. Speaking to families of the victims and first responders, Obama said Sunday that he had been reflecting on whether the country was doing enough to give its children “the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose.”
“And if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough, and we will have to change,” Obama said.
Sunday marked the fourth time in Obama’s presidency that he has traveled to a community shaken by a mass shooting. Just this summer, he made a similar visit to Aurora, Colo., where a dozen people were killed in a movie theater attack.
Drawing on his past experiences, Obama said he was mindful that mere words would not be enough to heal the depths of Newtown’s sorrow.
“I can only hope that it helps for you to know that you are not alone in your grief,” Obama said during the vigil, which followed his private meeting with families of the victims.
The president closed his remarks by reading the first names of the kids, slowly, in the most wrenching moment of the night. Cries and sobs filled the room.
Said Obama of the girls and boys who died: “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
Inside the room, children held stuffed teddy bears and dogs. The smallest kids sat on their parents’ laps.
There were tears and hugs, but also smiles and squeezed arms. Mixed with disbelief was a sense of a community reacquainting itself all at once.