US President Barack Obama’s emotional call for “meaningful action” after yesterday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school may signal he is prepared to push for stronger gun-control laws, a politically fraught issue he shied away from during his first term.
The killings of 20 children and seven adults, Obama said, created an imperative to stem gun violence.
“As a country, we have been through this too many times,” he said at the White House, pausing several times during his remarks to collect himself as tears welled in his eyes. “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.”
Gun-control advocates immediately challenged Obama to match his words with legislation.
After a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in July, the president vowed to seek a national consensus on reducing gun violence.
Yet in an election year, no proposals were made.
“Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in a statement yesterday. “We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before.”
There were at least seven mass murders in the US — killings of at least four — that claimed at least 65 lives this year.
Democratic US Representative Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis, was among six Long Island Railroad commuters killed by a gunman in 1993, said in a statement that “these shootings are becoming all too common.”
McCarthy said she hoped Obama’s promise to “take meaningful action” will “stay true as we continue down this road again.”
Republicans, many of whom rely on backing from the National Rifle Association (NRA), shied away from talking about firearms regulation.
Freed from the burden of running for re-election, Obama no longer has to worry about wooing pro-gun voters in competitive states or the political dollars of the powerful gun lobby.
Still, challenging the rights of US gun owners remains a difficult fight.
After yesterday’s shootings, the president stepped into the role of comforter-in-chief. As the images from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were broadcast, Obama empathized as a father of two girls.
“There’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do,” Obama said. “Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children.”
Leaders of both parties yesterday put aside a contentious debate over taxes and spending, and the president canceled an appearance next week in Maine to push for a budget deal.
US House Speaker John Boehner canceled the Republican weekly address scheduled for today. Obama ordered US flags flown at half-staff at all federal buildings and US facilities overseas.
“The horror of this day seems so unbearable, but we will lock arms and unite as citizens, for that is how Americans rise above unspeakable evil,” Boehner said in a statement.
Since a 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, US Congress has not enacted any major firearms regulations other than a law aimed at improving state reporting for federal background checks.
The gun lobby’s political power was illustrated during this year’s presidential campaign when, after mass shootings, neither Obama nor his opponent, Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, called for restrictions on gun ownership.
During the Oct. 16 presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, Obama said that in a second term, he would look into reinstating the assault weapon ban, which he supported in the past.