At memorial, Obama pledges effort to reduce gun violence

NEWTOWN, Conn./WASHINGTON Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:26pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a vigil held at Newtown High School for families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a vigil held at Newtown High School for families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut December 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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NEWTOWN, Conn./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, speaking at a memorial service for the victims of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, said on Sunday the United States was not doing enough to protect its children and pledged to launch an effort to reduce violence.

"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change," Obama said at a somber interfaith service.

"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 said. "Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine."

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.

"But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this."

And in a nod to anti-gun activists, the president suggested - at least implicitly - a that the constitutional protection of the right to bear arms should not prevent action on the wider problem.

"Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?" he asked.

Obama has called for changes to federal gun laws before, including offering support for a renewed ban on assault weapons.

An earlier ban expired in 2004, and the president reiterated his backing for a new one in an October debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

But during his first term, Obama disappointed anti-gun activists by not making a more aggressive push to make guns less easily available in much of the country. After a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin this summer, the president said such events were happening with "too much regularity" but also stopped short of calling for new gun control laws.

On Friday, the day of the Connecticut shooting, Obama seemed to indicate a higher priority for dealing with gun violence and a desire to navigate the issue's tricky political implications.

"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said.

His remarks on Sunday echoed that call.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Connecticut and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Editing by Philip Barbara and Jackie Frank)

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