Obama in Newtown: U.S. Is Not Doing Enough to Protect Its Children

At memorial service for Connecticut school shooting victims, Obama pledges effort to reduce gun violence across the nation. 'These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.'

U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday consoled the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren, lauding residents' courage in the face of tragedy and saying that the United States was not doing enough to protect its children.

"Surely we can do better than this," Obama told a packed high school auditorium.

"We can't accept events like this as routine," Obama told the audience, noting that this is the fourth mass-shooting incident during his time in office. "Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?" 

The comments were among Obama's strongest on gun violence, but he stopped short - again - of issuing an explicit call for gun control or reform that would curtail gun owners' rights.

Similar to previous speeches at similarly tragic events, Obama was not specific in saying how his renewed effort to reduce violence would play out.

But his remarks did suggest where he would start: by mentioning mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and educators, the president carefully refrained from taking on gun enthusiasts and their powerful lobbyists.

He also made clear - perhaps in a nod to conservative Democrats and Republicans who are wary of rhetoric supporting gun control - that the cause of gun violence like that in Connecticut was complex.

"We will be told that the causes of such violence will be complex and that 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," he said. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."

"In the coming weeks I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he vowed.

Several lawmakers have already pledged to raise the issue in Congress, including reintroducing legislation meant to renew the ban on assault weapons after it expired in 2004. Republican lawmakers kept over the weekend mostly silent on the issue of gun control.

The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Friday's slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide.

All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States.

"Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," Obama said. "I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."

Obama spoke the names of the Sandy Hook school staff members who died on Friday and lauded their courage.

"They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances. With courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care," Obama said.

Parents and children filled the Newtown High School auditorium for the evening vigil. Some of the children clutched stuffed animals and Red Cross blankets issued to ward off the cold.