President Obama on Sunday night pledged the remainder of his presidency to taking steps to end the string of spree shootings that have scarred the nation’s consciousness in recent years.
Addressing both the grief-stricken Newtown, Conn., residents packed into a crowded high school auditorium and an outraged nation watching the televised speech at home, the president said tragedies like the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults inside Sandy Hook Elementary must end.
“I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens,” the president said, “in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because, what choice do we have?
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?” he said. “That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year is simply the price of our freedom?”
The president stopped short of describing specific legislation, but new gun-control measures are already coming together on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are promising action in the wake of the Friday massacre in Newtown, in which a 20-year-old man armed with three semiautomatic weapons broke into a school and executed two classrooms full of children and the adults who tried to protect them.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Sunday that she would introduce a bill to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons on the first day of the next Congress in January as gun-control advocates pressure Mr. Obama to tackle the issue in the wake of the school massacre Friday.
The shooting deaths could force the president to tackle an issue that was largely on the sidelines during his first term in office as he dealt with an anemic economy, perpetual overseas tumult and a bruising battle to push his health care overhaul through Congress.
“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession, not retroactively, but prospectively,” Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, said of her bill on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We exempt over 900 specific weapons that will not fall under the bill. But the purpose of this bill is to get … weapons of war off the streets.
“I think America is ready,” she said, adding that she thinks Mr. Obama will support the bill.
The president said in his weekly address Saturday that “we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and a staunch gun-control advocate, said if now isn’t the time to have a serious discussion about gun control, he doesn’t know when that time is.
“How many more Columbines and Newtowns must we live through?” he said. “I am challenging President Obama, the Congress and the American public to act on our outrage and, finally, do something about this.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday” that they support reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, which took effect in 1994 and lapsed in 2004. Other Connecticut Democrats, such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen.-elect Christopher S. Murphy, said action must be taken soon, but they were focused on the victims’ families in the immediate future.
Gun-control advocacy groups are pushing Mr. Obama hard to pursue specific policy.
Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said Sunday that the group is “tremendously disturbed” by the incident and “our feeling is that we never should have allowed our country to reach this point.”