President Obama came to Connecticut on Sunday to express his sorrow and offer hope to those suffering after the fatal mass shooting of 20 children and six adults, saying he came to offer the “love and prayers of a nation.”
The president spoke at the Newtown High School after meeting privately with families of the victims and emergency personnel who responded to the deadly shootings Friday inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I am very mindful that words cannot match the depths of your sorrow,” the president said. “But whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. … Newtown you are not alone.”
The president spoke at a lectern, in front of which was table set with 26 glass-covered candles — one for each of the 6- and 7-year-olds fatally shot.
“We need this … to begin our long journey through grief and loss,” said the Rev. Matt Crebbin, of the Newtown Congressional Church, who began the prayer vigil. “We are all in this together.”
The president arrived two days after the incident Friday in which a gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally.
A White House official said Obama was the primary author of his speech and edited his remarks on the flight to Connecticut with White House speechwriter Cody Keenan.
Authorities identified the shooter Friday as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. He fatally shot his mother before going to the school and killed himself.
The president was introduced by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, who said Obama told him Friday was the hardest day of his presidency.
This marked the fourth trip of Obama’s presidency to a grieving city in the aftermath of a mass shooting.
Last summer, Obama went to Aurora, Colo., to visit victims and families after a shooting spree at a movie theater in the Denver suburb left 12 dead.
He went to Tucson, Ariz., in January of last year after six people were killed and 13 were wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, outside a grocery store. Keenan also helped Obama write that speech.
In November 2009, Obama traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to speak at the memorial service for 13 service members who were killed on the post by another soldier.
After the Colorado shooting in July, the White House made clear that Obama would not propose new gun restrictions in an election year and said he favored better enforcement of existing laws.
However, the Connecticut shootings may have changed the political dynamic in Washington, although public opinion in favor of gun control has declined over the years. While the White House has said Obama stands by his desire to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, he has not pushed Congress to act.
Several Democratic lawmakers, during appearances on the Sunday talk shows, said the gruesome killings at the school were the final straw in a debate on gun laws that has fallen to the wayside in recent years.
“This conversation has been dominated in Washington by — you know and I know — gun lobbies that have an agenda” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. “We need people, just ordinary Americans, to come together, and speak out, and to sit down and calmly reflect on how far we go.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is retiring, suggested a national commission on mass violence that would examine gun laws and what critics see as loopholes, as well as the mental health system and violence in movies and video games. Durbin said he supports the idea, and would add school safety to the list of topics to examine.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would push legislation next year to ban future sales of military-assault weapons like those used in the elementary school shooting. The bill will ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the talk shows.
However, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.