"These tragedies must end", Obama tells grief-stricken Newtown as pressure grows for action on gun control

President Obama promises to use “whatever power” his office holds to prevent “more tragedies likes this.”
  • @timwalker

As shaken locals continued to gather around memorials near the elementary school where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on Friday, President Obama, speaking from a spartan stage set up at another school in this picturesque southern New England town, promised to use “whatever power” his office holds to prevent “more tragedies likes this.”

"No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world to prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," the President, assuming the role of consoler in chief to the families affected by the tragedy, said at a prayer vigil in Newtown last night. "But that can't be an excuse for inaction.... 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? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

Although he avoided using the word "gun", the newly re-elected American leader admitted that not enough had been done to prevent such incidents.  "Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this in the last few days. And if we're honest with ourselves the answer's no," the President told the gathering at Newtown High School. "We're not doing enough and we will have to change."

Earlier, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein announced she would introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the opening day of the new Congress next month. Speaking to NBC's Meet the Press, she said the bill would ban "the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession" of assault weapons, as well as magazines that carry more than 10 bullets. Ms Feinstein, a California Democrat, was instrumental in creating the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. This, she said, would be a "perfected" version of that law.

Meanwhile, the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday it was "time for the President to stand up and lead". Mr Obama, said Mr Bloomberg, should introduce an assault weapons ban, and insist federal agencies enforce existing legislation more energetically.

Democrat politicians have shied away from discussing gun control in recent years, fearful of incurring the wrath of the National Rifle Association, considered the country's most powerful lobby group. But yesterday senior Democrats led the demands for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, among them the New York Senator Chuck Schumer; Dick Durbin, the Senator from Illinois who is the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate; and the former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. Mr Lieberman told Fox News, "The stronger our laws are, the fewer acts of violence will happen in our society."

As the debate opened up, some of the families began to speak about their ordeal, including Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old Emilie. He called for compassion and understanding and said his thoughts were also with the Lanza family: "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you. I want you to know that our love and support goes out to you as well."

With his state at the heart of the debate, the Connecticut Representative John Larson said Congress must look at new gun-control measures and introducing background checks for all gun sales. The Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal was more circumspect, but told ABC's This Week that Friday's events would "spur and transform the national conversation". The state's Governor, Dan Malloy, said of assault weapons like the one used in the attack, "You don't hunt deer with these things… One can only hope that we'll find a way to limit these weapons that really only have one purpose."

Authorities in Indiana yesterday said a man they named as 60-year-old Von Meyer, who had 47 guns in his home, had been arrested after allegedly threatening to kill people at an elementary school near his home in Cedar Lake, south-east of Chicago.

Not all of Washington is in agreement, however. The Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, told Fox News the problem was not too many guns, but too few. Mass murderers, Mr Gohmert claimed, chose locations where they knew victims would be unarmed: "Every mass killing in recent history has been in a place where guns were prohibited," he said.