Connecticut school shooting

Obama gives speech at vigil service for Sandy Hook school shooting victims

While delivering his eulogy for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Barack Obama hinted at a push towards gun reform control

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 4:20am

Like a teacher reading the roster before class, US President Barack Obama sketched in haunting, human terms, the horror of the Connecticut school massacre.

"Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison..."

Sobs broke the silence at a harrowing vigil service, as Obama said the names of the 20 children, aged six and seven, shot multiple times at their school on Friday.

Obama, called for the fourth time in his presidency to eulogise the dead of a mass gun crime, sought to offer solace to parents suffering unimaginable loss, as well as hints of a push for gun control reform.

Anguished moans from relatives also split the hush as Obama lauded six heroic teachers and support staff who sacrificed themselves trying to halt gunman Adam Lanza's rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"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.

As a father of young girls and as a president, Obama seemingly second guessed himself over his failure to do more to stiffen federal gun laws.

"This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged," Obama said.

"And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we're meeting our obligations?

"Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?" Obama asked.

Obama appeared to commit himself to a genuine effort to reform firearms laws, perhaps by leading a push to restore a ban on assault weapons like that used by Lanza, which expired in 2004.

"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change," he said.

In his speech at Newtown High School, close to the cursed elementary school, Obama did not mention gun control directly, though his intent appeared clear.

He did not cast the fight against the entrenched gun lobby, which wields substantial power in Congress, as an effort to confiscate weapons - a desire his most vehement conservative opponents often say he harbours.

But he suggested that the argument should be built more on the need to protect children.

Obama's vow may herald a push for laws governing, and restricting, ownership and use of powerful guns and rapid-fire ammunition.

Any such legislation would need to avoid falling foul of the right to bear arms enshrined in the United States Constitution. But the newly re-elected president questioned whether the freedom to have a gun could be allowed to constrain the right of others to live in "happiness and with purpose".

"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

To effect change, Obama will have to conquer what critics see as one of the flaws of his first term: he has often proven more adept at defining a problem rhetorically than in building a political coalition to fix it.

Obama at least is no longer beholden to rural, white, gun-owning voters in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania or Colorado, after his re-election victory last month.

But many Democratic lawmakers whom Obama would need for a concerted push on guns do not enjoy the political freedom that the second term president will enjoy.