US school shooting: Obama vows to act on violence
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US President Barack Obama told a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, on Sunday that "We’re not doing enough" as a country to prevent tragedies like Friday's school shootings, indicating there may be renewed political will to push for stricter gun control.
US President Barack Obama on Sunday demanded changes in the way the country dealt with gun violence, though he avoided the use of the word “gun” itself in consoling the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren and seven adults.
Obama said the world would judge the nation by the way it cared for its children, and that Friday’s slaughter left that judgment wanting.
“What choice do we have?” Obama said at an evening vigil in the shattered community of Newtown, Connecticut. “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?”
He spoke of a broader effort, never outlining exactly what he would push for, but expressed outrage at yet another shooting rampage. “Surely we can do better than this,” he said. “We have an obligation to try.”
Reporting from Newtown, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said that “while Obama made no promise of new laws, this was definitely a tone-setting speech for a very strong debate on gun control”.
The massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday elicited horror around the world, soul-searching in the US, fresh political debate and questions about the incomprehensible – what drove 20-year-old suspect Adam Lanza to kill his mother and then unleash gunfire on a classroom of schoolchildren?
A total of seven adults and 20 boys and girls between the ages of six and seven were slaughtered before the suspected gunman killed himself, bringing the final death toll to 28.
Obama told Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency. The president has two daughters, Malia and Sasha, who are 14 and 11, respectively.
“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days,” the president said, his voice sombre and steady. “And if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough and we will have to change.”
He promised in the coming weeks to talk with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent mass shootings.
The shootings have restarted a debate in Washington about what politicians can to do help – gun control or otherwise. “Obama really gave the impression of somebody who wanted to go back to Washington and get things done,” FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther reported from Capitol Hill on Monday. “This will be a week of fierce lobbying for those who want stricter guns laws, but we will also probably hear from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the gun owners’ lobby.”
Democratic lawmakers said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the US.
Obama and Senate Democrats haven’t pushed for new gun controls since rising to power in the 2008 elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, say that’s because of the powerful sway of the NRA.
But gun control advocates also say the latest shooting is a tipping point that could change the dynamic of the debate. Feinstein said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
“The pressure now on Obama is pretty big to change gun laws,” Crowther said. “But he also has a big fight on his hands.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)