WASHINGTON -- President Obama vowed to take action to prevent mass slayings like the one that tore through a Connecticut elementary school Friday, saying, “We can’t tolerate this anymore.”
Speaking at a memorial service for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shootings, Obama said he would use his office to try to stop the steady pattern of mass shootings.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” Obama said. “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough, and we will have to change.”
Obama remarks were a notable departure from similar speeches delivered in the wake of other tragedies, when he has made vague calls for increased conversation but has not promised action.
Obama did not offer any specific policy proposal or clear legislative steps on Sunday. But his remarks suggested he would seek some gun-control measures.
“Are we prepared that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Obama asked, speaking above a table filled with white candles representing the victims.
Obama arrived Sunday afternoon, stepping off Air Force One alone in a drizzling rain, an envoy from a grieving nation sent to lend small comfort to a devastated town.
“I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depth of your sorrow. I can only hope that it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief. That our world too has been torn apart. All across this land of ours we have wept with you,” Obama said. “Newtown, you are not alone.”
The president met privately at Newtown High School with relatives of the dead and first responders before delivering remarks at the memorial service at the school. Hundreds of people awaited his arrival in the auditorium, trading hellos and hugs. Children, some wearing Sandy Hook School sweatshirts, clutched stuffed puppies handed out by the Red Cross for comfort. Tears flowed.
The crowd came to its feet and applauded when a group of law enforcement officials entered the room.
Twenty children and six adults were killed Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shooter Adam Lanza, 20, also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home before blasting his way into the school, where he later killed himself. Investigators have been unable to explain a motive.
That question was left Sunday to religious leaders, public officials and the president. Aides said Obama was the chief author of the speech he delivered in Newtown. He was still working on the text with a speechwriter as he flew north from Washington.
Such presidential visits have become a grim routine for the nation’s mourner in chief. He has delivered speeches after several mass shootings during his term, including the 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas, the 2011 shooting outside a grocery store in Tucson and the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., in July.
The speeches, part sorrowful sermon, part counseling session, have become so frequent they have taken on a pattern.
The president often begins with a quote from the Bible. He notes his personal, emotional reaction to the tragedy -- often speaking as a parent. He names and honors the dead and tells a hopeful story, often of a survivor.
Obama typically only nods to the policy issues that inevitably arise in the wake of such events -- mental health services, gun control, religious bias -- before finding a less divisive lesson to elevate.
But Sunday’s remarks, and the promise of action, were something of a departure from that pattern.
The pressure was rapidly mounting on Obama to call for a specific action on gun control. Obama is a supporter of renewing a ban on the sale of assault weapons, which expired in 2004, but has not tried to move legislation through Congress.
The president, a father of two, has clearly been affected by the shooting. In his first remarks on the shootings, made Friday at the White House, the typically reserved and composed president tried and failed to hold back tears as he read a brief statement.
On Sunday, the president sat in the front row, hands folded under his chin, as he listened to prayers from local religious leaders.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, introducing Obama, said he had spoken with the president moments earlier. Obama told him Friday was the darkest day of his presidency.
Obama’s remarks reflected a personal note. When a parent sends a child out to the world, he realizes he cannot always protect her alone, he said.
“In that way, we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child. That we’re all parents, that they’re all our children. This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right we don’t get anything right,” Obama said. “That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”