President Barack Obama said that the nation was “left with some hard questions” in the aftermath of a Connecticut elementary school massacre and must take action in the memory of the 20 children and six adults killed there.
A society is judged by how well it can keep its children safe and thriving, Obama said at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“Can we truly say as a nation that we’re meeting our obligations?” Obama asked. “Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage.”
The president, quoting scripture, sought to deliver words of consolation to the families and to the town, telling them that the entire nation grieves 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 what is seen but what is unseen. What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”
Without offering a specific course of action, Obama said that while there is no single solution to the complex problem of violence in U.S. society, “that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” He vowed to do everything in his power to begin the process of searching for an answer.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” he said.
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 U.S.
Before the vigil, Obama met privately with the families of the victims and with the emergency workers who were the first on the scene of the massacre.
Obama cited the heroism of the school staff and then concluded his remarks 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.
Lanza, who fatally shot his mother at her home before going to Sandy Hook Elementary, killed himself at the scene. Obama is under increasing pressure from some Democrats in Congress and gun-control advocates to take a concrete stand on gun violence.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, faulted Obama for failing to act on an assault weapons ban and other restrictions, while congressional Democrats promised hearings and legislation.
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,” Bloomberg said today 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.”
Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said the shooting may be a “catalytic event” that provokes the country to examine violence in U.S. society 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,” 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.”
Lieberman called for the naming of a commission to examine the causes of such events, which he said should include those in favor of stricter regulation of firearms, advocates for gun owners and representatives of the entertainment industry.
For 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 theater in Aurora, Colo.
He traveled to Tucson, Arizona, on Jan. 12, 2011, for a memorial service after the Jan. 7 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 U.S. Army psychiatrist.