Wiping tears from his eyes, President Barack Obama urged the nation to “come together” in the wake of a shooting that left more than two dozen people dead, many of them children, Friday morning at a Connecticut elementary school.
“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” Obama said in brief remarks Friday afternoon at the White House, some six hours after a gunman in his 20s reportedly opened fire in a kindergarten classroom.
According to the Associated Press and other news outlets, the grisly massacre — which unfolded at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the wooded enclave of Newtown, Conn., some 70 miles northeast of New York City — left 27 people dead, including 20 children. Connecticut law enforcement officials said the gunman was among the dead. The preliminary tally would make the massacre among the deadliest in U.S. history, perhaps surpassed only by a 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University, where a mentally ill student killed 32 people before turning his guns on himself.
His voice halting and cracking, Obama spoke emotionally of the young victims — “beautiful little kids,” he said, between the ages of 5 and 10, who “had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” As he has after similar tragedies, Obama invoked his own role as a father as he sought to comfort a community wracked with grief.
The incident is the latest in a sequence of mass shootings around the U.S. in recent years. Obama referenced several in his remarks, including the slayings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., and a rampage at a suburban Denver movie theater last summer. “As a country, we’ve been through this too many times,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Many Americans have called on lawmakers to impose new gun-control regulations in an effort to curb future catastrophes. There is no evidence yet that such measures would have prevented the carnage in Connecticut. Although the gun-rights lobby has stoked fears about Obama’s desire to restrict gun rights, the President signed bills in his first term that allowed the possession of firearms in national parks and on Amtrak trains. His record of modestly expanding gun rights prompted one gun-control group to assail Obama’s “extraordinary silence and passivity,” and award the President an “F” on gun control in 2010. Obama eschewed the topic on the campaign trail this year, though he did allow, during the second presidential debate, that he favored the reintroduction of an assault-weapons ban.
What Obama meant by “meaningful action” was unclear. White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters earlier Friday that a policy debate could wait for another day. Despite the spate of shootings, gun control has been a dormant issue in Congress of late. The stakes of the issue, however, were underlined by Obama’s surroundings as he addressed the public on Friday. He delivered his remarks in the James S. Brady Briefing Room, named for the press secretary who was shot and severely injured during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.