WASHINGTON — The deadly shootings at a movie theater in Colorado have briefly silenced the presidential campaign, prompting both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cut short their schedules and pull advertising in the state out of respect for the victims and their families.
Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address that he hopes everyone takes time this weekend “for prayer and reflection — for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover.”
The president said Americans should also think about “all the victims of the less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities on a daily basis. Let us keep all these Americans in our prayers.”
Obama and Romney used campaign appearances on Friday to focus attention on the need for national unity in the aftermath of the shootings in Aurora, which killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others. Their campaign teams rescheduled Sunday show appearances by top aides and surrogates, essentially providing a break in what has been an increasingly testy campaign.
Obama was set to start his second day of events in Florida when the shootings occurred, prompting his team to address the violence at a previously scheduled rally in Fort Myers, Fla., and scrapping an event in suburban Orlando. Obama told supporters in Fort Myers that the shootings served as a “reminder that life is very fragile.”
“Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”
Romney echoed Obama’s call for unity, saying at a previously scheduled event in Bow, N.H., that he joined with the president and first lady in offering condolences for those “whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil in Colorado.”
“The answer is that we can come together. We will show our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love,” Romney said.
Other prominent lawmakers called the shootings a time for unity. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in the Republican address Saturday that lawmakers joined Obama in offering condolences and prayers to the loved ones of those who were killed and wounded.
“I know that when confronted with evil we cannot comprehend, Americans pull together and embrace our national family more tightly,” Boehner said.
Yet, beyond the calls for a higher purpose, the shootings could raise the profile of gun rights in the presidential campaign, an issue which has played a minor role so far.
As a senator Obama voted to leave gun makers and dealers open to civil lawsuits, and as an Illinois state lawmaker he supported a ban on all forms of semiautomatic weapons and tighter state restrictions generally on firearms.
Following the killing of six people and wounding of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, Obama called for a series of steps to “keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”
Among those steps was a better federal background check system. The administration said Friday that it has indeed improved the amount and quality of information poured into that system, allowing background checks to be more thorough.