Obama: now is the time for change
NEWTOWN, Connecticut: Barack Obama says the US "cannot tolerate" any more mass shootings and must change to prevent them.
"Can we truly say as a nation that we're meeting our obligations?" the President asked at a vigil to commemorate the victims of Friday's Connecticut massacre. "Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage?
‘‘We can’t tolerate this any more,’’ he said. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.’’
Mr Obama said he would use the power of his office to confront the spate of shootings that have claimed so many lives, including the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. He was not specific, but he made it clear that he would pursue change in the face of political opposition that has stopped new gun laws for years.
"I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have?" he said.
Mr Obama said the nation was failing at what he called "our first task", which was to care for the children of the nation.
"It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right,’’ he said, asking: "Can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we are doing enough to keep our children - all of them - safe from harm?’’
There was no single solution to the complex problem of violence in US society, but "that can't be an excuse for inaction". He vowed to do everything in his power to find an answer.
"We can't accept events like this as routine," he said.
A society was judged by how well it could keep its children safe and thriving, Mr Obama said.
Quoting the Bible, he sought to deliver words of consolation to the families and to the town, telling them that the entire nation grieved with them.
"I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," he said after reading a verse from Corinthians: "We fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen. What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal."
Mr Obama arrived in Newtown two days after the tragedy and as authorities were still trying to piece together a motive for the second-deadliest mass shooting in the US.
Before the vigil, he met privately with the families of the victims and emergency workers who were the first on the scene.
Mr Obama cited the heroism of the school staff and finished by reading the names of the 20 children who died when a gunman, identified by police as Adam Lanza, 20, burst into the school and opened fire in two first grade classrooms. Six adults at the school also died.
Mr Obama is under increasing pressure from some Democrats in Congress and gun-control advocates to take a concrete stand on gun violence.
The New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, an independent, faulted Mr Obama for failing to act on an assault weapons ban and other restrictions, while congressional Democrats promised hearings and legislation.
Mr Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, urged Congress to renew a 1994 ban on military-style firearms that expired in 2004. He called for improved databases to trace gun ownership, stricter enforcement of gun trafficking and more laws to prevent sales to criminals.
"We don't need people carrying guns in public places," Mr Bloomberg said on NBC's Meet the Press program. "That's not what the founding fathers had in mind. It doesn't add to anybody's safety. Quite the contrary, it makes us have a much more dangerous society."
The Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, said the shooting might be a "catalytic event" that provoked the country to examine violence and access to firearms.
"The murder of 20 children is really something that this country hasn't seen in my lifetime and I think it's touched everybody," Senator Lieberman said in an interview at the high school. "People are heartbroken but it's also made people angry, and I just hope that we don't lose those feelings and do whatever we can to try to prevent this thing from every happening again."
For Mr Obama, expressing empathy and providing context in the midst of tragedy is becoming a familiar role.
Just five months ago, the president sought to comfort families after a mass shooting that left 12 dead at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.
He travelled to Tucson, Arizona, on January 12, 2011, for a memorial service after the attempted assassination of then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords, where six were killed and 13 wounded. In his first year as commander-in-chief, Obama went to Fort Hood, Texas, for a memorial service for 13 people killed there by a US Army psychiatrist.
- Bloomberg and New York Times via the SMH.
This article initially appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.