WASHINGTON — Speaking before an auditorium of grieving parents, community members and others there to mourn the killing of 20 first graders and six educators from Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama pledged Sunday to use the power of the office he occupies to end the epidemic of gun violence shaking the nation.
“We’re not doing enough,” the president said. “And we will have to change.”
“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he added. “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and it is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”
The speech was the fourth and most direct that the president has given in the wake of a major instance of gun-related violence. His day had started with a trip to see his daughter, Sasha, at her dance rehearsal at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. And as he took the stage at Newtown High School, in a quiet New England town tucked in the southwestern corner of Connecticut, it was evident that he still occupied the mindset of a father frightened at vulnerability of young children.
These moments have become disturbingly regular for this president. His speech in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings touched on the concept of justice for such heinous acts. His address to the victims of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that nearly took former Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s (D-Ariz.) life focused on the need to renew the human spirit in the wake of seeming madness. His talk before the National Urban League convention following the shooting in Aurora, Colo., rested on the notion of community and how society can protect and better itself even amid epidemics of gun violence.
The address in Newtown offered a more stern call for cultural, or even legislative, change.
Americans’ support for stricter gun control laws appeared to grow in the days following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to a poll conducted by YouGov and The Huffington Post, 50 percent of respondents support stricter gun control laws, up from 43 percent in August.
This January, congressional Democrats plan to introduce identical bills in the House and Senate to renew the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was allowed to lapse in 2004 after 10 years. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) said on Sunday that the bills would be introduced on the first day that Congress reconvenes next year.
Whether the ban would have changed the course of the Sandy Hook shootings is a complicated question. Authorities said Sunday that a Bushmaker .223 assault rifle was one of the weapons that 20 year-old Adam Lanza used to commit Friday’s murders, and that it was purchased legally.
Led by the National Rifle Association, pro-gun lobbying groups in Washington have donated more than $5 million to House and Senate candidates since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. In 2012, the NRA’s political action committee made more than $600,000 in federal campaign donations, overwhelmingly directed towards Republicans. The NRA has been largely silent in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting, and an NRA spokeswoman said that the group would not release any comments “until the facts are thoroughly known.”
In the meantime, the pro-gun lobby faced an ongoing barrage of criticism on Sunday from a wide range of public figures. As Feinstein was calling on Congress to act on gun control, across town, the dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall called on people of faith to “serve as a counterweight to the gun lobby,” and “stand together with our leaders and support them as they act to take assault weapons off the streets.”