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December 17th, 2012

President Obama Vows Action after Elementary School Shooting

President Obama addressed a congregation of citizens from Newtown, Conn. on Sunday after the shooting. The service included words of comfort and scripture readings from many different religious traditions.

President Obama addressed a congregation of citizens from Newtown, Conn. on Sunday after the shooting. The service included words of comfort and scripture readings from many different religious traditions.

At a memorial service on Sunday for the 20 students and 6 adults who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., President Obama offered words of comfort to the families of those slain. However, he also vowed action, breaking from the script of sympathies to say that he “will 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.”

The shooter also killed his mother at their Newtown home before heading to the school.

The incident at Sandy Hook is the second worst mass shooting in American history after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that claimed 32 lives.

At an interfaith prayer service for the victims, the president praised the town’s response to the events. “As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown,” he said, “But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions… Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?”

The president’s vow for action has already sparked conversations between policy-makers and citizens as to how best approach the issue.

Many are calling for stricter controls on the buying and selling of weapons, while others are emphasizing the need for more assistance for individuals with mental health issues.

However, both of these topics are politically charged, and action at a national level will be more difficult than words at a memorial service.

Candles are set out in Oakland, California to mourn the shooting victims. Messages of support have come in from around the world.


Can gun control help prevent mass shootings?

In the days after the tragedy, many Americans questioned the gun laws that allowed the shooter, Adam Lanza, to get his hands on the two handguns and one semi-automatic assault rifle that he carried into the school. The guns were legally owned by Lanza’s mother, Nancy.

“Of the 12 deadliest shootings in our nation’s history, half of them have happened in the last five years,” said Connecticut Congressman John B. Larson.

“It’s time for Members of Congress to act! Congress should be prepared to vote on requiring background checks for all gun sales, closing the terrorist watch list loopholes, and banning assault weapons and high capacity clips. Those measures don’t solve all our problems, but they’re a start.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California announced on NBC’s Meet the Press that she will introduce new gun control legislation on the first day of the new Congress next year.

In 1994 Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and was never renewed. The law banned high-capacity clipsthat allow someone to fire a gun for many rounds without reloading, and 18 specific firearms, including the gun used in the Aurora, Colo. shooting earlier in 2012.

The weapons ban was riddled with loopholes and did a poor job of curbing gun violence, but the number of victims in mass shootings has doubled since the ban expired, according to a report from the Washington Post.

Advocates for gun ownership argue that if anything, laws should make it easier for people to own guns, since a well-armed population could help bring down a shooter before they claimed too many casualties.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s largest pro-gun lobbying group, has yet to make a statement on the incident, and temporarily suspended its online social media presence.

Calls to strengthen mental health resources

Although there are few concrete facts about the mental health of the shooter, speculation has surrounded what role untreated mental illness played in the shooting.

“We also need to focus on our mental health care system,” said Congressman Larson. “We need to support a better process for families and friends to share their concerns and fears with authorities about people’s mental status, and begin to invest in the human infrastructure needed for effective prevention programs that create healthy children,”

While the vast majority of people with poor mental health are non-violent and non-threatening, mental illness can affect a person’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong. As such, the rate of mental illness in America’s prisons is five times that of the general population, according to a study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Although the president did not go into detail on how he would approach these problems, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Mr. Obama would be revealing a specific plan of action in the coming weeks.

— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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