Obama in Newtown. (AP)
Newtown (Connecticut), Dec. 17: President Obama vowed today to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop massacres like the slaughter at the school here that shocked the nation, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns as he declared that there was no “excuse for inaction”.
In a surprisingly assertive speech at a memorial service for the 27 victims, including 20 children, Obama said that the country had failed to protect its young and that its leaders could no longer sit by idly because “the politics are too hard”. While he did not elaborate on what action he would propose, he said that “these tragedies must end”.
The speech, a blend of grief and resolve that he finished writing on the short Air Force One flight up here, seemed to promise a significant change in direction for a President who has not made gun issues a top priority in four years in office.
After each of three other mass killings during his tenure, Obama has renewed calls for legislation without exerting much political capital, but the definitive language yesterday may make it harder for him not to act this time.
“No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” He added that “in the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds” in an effort “aimed at preventing more tragedies like this”.
“Because what choice do we have?” he added. “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?”
Obama, speaking on a stark stage before a table of votive candles for each victim, mixed his call to action with words of consolation for this bereaved town. When he read the names of teachers killed defending their students, people in the audience gasped and wept.
The service came as new details emerged about the terrifying moments at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Authorities said yesterday that the gunman, Adam Lanza, shot his mother multiple times in the head before his rampage at the school and that he still had hundreds of rounds of ammunition left when he killed himself. Governor Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said Lanza shot himself as the police were closing in, suggesting that he may have intended to take more lives had he not been interrupted.
The President’s trip here came amid rising pressure to push for tighter regulation of guns in America. The President offered no specific proposals, and there were no urgent meetings at the White House over the weekend to draft legislation. Administration officials cautioned against expecting quick, dramatic action, especially given the end-of-the-year fiscal crisis consuming most of Obama’s time.
But the administration does have the makings of a plan on the shelf, with measures drafted by the Justice Department over the years but never advanced. Among other things, Democrats said they would push to renew an assault rifle ban that expired in 2004 and try to ban high-capacity magazines like those used by Lanza in Newtown. The President also said he would work with law enforcement and mental health professionals, as well as parents and educators.
The streets outside the memorial service and the airwaves across the nation were filled with voices calling for legislative action. By contrast, the National Rifle Association and its most prominent supporters in Congress were largely absent from the public debate.
“These events are happening more frequently,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, said here before the service began, “and I worry that if we don’t take a thoughtful look at them, we’re going to lose the pain, the hurt and the anger that we have now”.
Governor Malloy said on the CBS programme Face the Nation that when someone can burst into a building with “clips of up to 30 rounds on a weapon that can almost instantaneously fire those, you have to start to question whether assault weapons should be allowed to be distributed the way they are in the United States”.
The grieving in this small New England town, aired nonstop on national television, adding emotional energy to the pressure on a newly re-elected Democratic President who has largely avoided the issue during four years in the White House. Obama has long supported the restoration of the assault weapon ban, which first passed in 1994 only to set off a backlash among supporters of gun rights.