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Obama Seeks to Comfort Families as Aurora Remembers Shooting Victims

Greg Zanis of Aurora, Ill., carries two of the 12 crosses he made for a makeshift memorial to the victims of Thursday night’s mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

President Obama told the nation Sunday night that he hoped Americans would not only remember the victims killed and injured in the tragic theater shooting in Colorado, but also focus on the determination, resilience and courage shown by many as the massacre was happening.

“Some of the stories are remarkable,” Mr. Obama said. “You see some young people who just 24 hours ago or 36 hours ago, it wasn’t clear they would make it. Their eyes are open and they are talking. It reminds you that even in the darkest of days, life continues. People bounce back, and people are resilient.”

The president made his remarks at the University of Colorado Hospital where he met with families of the victims killed in the tragedy and survivors. Twenty-three of those injured in the attacks were brought to the hospital after the shootings. One died, 12 have been released, and 10 remain.

Twelve people were killed and 58 others wounded when suspected gunman 24-year-old James Holmes entered a packed movie theater shortly after midnight Friday and opened fire on the crowd gathered for the premiere of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Saying he came to speak to them less as president and more as a husband and father, Mr. Obama said, “I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in this kind of situation but that my main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know we are thinking of them in this moment.”

“Although the perpetrator of this evil act has received a lot of attention over the last couple of days,” he said, “that attention will fade away, and in the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy.”

The President told the story of what happened to one young woman and her best friend as a particularly inspiring example of the courage he had seen from others he had met. He had visited with both of them just minutes before making his remarks, he said.

Allie Young, 19, and her best friend Stephanie Davies, 21, had been attending the movie and were just feet away from Holmes when he threw the gas canisters. Allie, the President said, had stood up and was shot in the neck, suffering a wound to her neck where a vein was punctured.

Davies, he said, had the presence of mind to drop down next to her, apply pressure, and call 911, even as the attack was continuing and even as her friend told her to run and escape. After the SWAT teams arrived, the President said, she carried Young across two parking lots to an ambulance.

“I don’t know how many people at any age would have the presence of mind that Stephanie did or the courage that Allie showed,” Mr. Obama said. “As heartbreaking as it is for the families, it is worth us spending most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Stephanie and Allie….Out of this darkness, a brighter day is going to come.”

Watch the president’s speech:

Even as the President spoke, his remarks were intercut on television with images of people holding up pictures of their loved ones, hugging one another and shedding tears at a nearby vigil and memorial service in Aurora, also on Sunday evening.

In the continuing investigation into Holmes’ motives and methods Sunday, investigators told the AP and other news organizations that the semi-automatic weapon Holmes used during the attack had jammed in the middle of the shootings, forcing him to use another gun that had less firepower.

The Associated Press reported that that a 100-round drum magazine was recovered at the scene and that such a device would be able to fire 50 to 60 rounds a minute.
Prior to the vigils and the President’s visit, the debate over gun control, rarely on the legislative agenda these days, returned to the political spotlight.

On the Sunday talk shows, several senators and other politicians said tighter gun control laws, such as a federal ban on selling assault weapons (which was signed into law in 1994 and expired a decade later), would not necessarily have prevented Friday’s tragedy at the Aurora movie theater.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) told CNN: “To think that somehow increased gun control is the answer, that would have to be proved.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) went even further, speculating on whether an armed civilian may have been able to stop Holmes, echoing sentiments made by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) on Friday. (Gohmert said: “It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying? That could have stopped this guy more quickly?”)

“I think that is the truth, that if somebody – a responsible individual – had been carrying a weapon, maybe, maybe they could have prevented some of those deaths, some of those injuries, and that’s just the truth,” Johnson said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the massacre had reignited a national conversation about gun control, including in his state which is considered to have relatively lax restrictions to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

But he was reluctant to say he would support new measures, and seemed to suggest that Holmes may not have been deterred by tighter weapons restrictions.

“This is a case of evil, of someone who was an aberration of nature,” Hickenlooper told CNN. “If it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another.”

“If he couldn’t have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured?” Hickenlooper said. “We’re in a time and information age where there’s access to all kinds of information. He was diabolical, demonic in this twisted sense that he just — I think of him almost as a terrorist…He wanted to take away not just the people in that theater but from the country our ability to enjoy life, to go to a movie theater, which for most of us is a refuge where we can get away from the rest of some of the pressures of life.”

But some Democrats joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in pressing for a new push for tougher laws.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) called on both presidential candidates to seize the moment for a new initiative, particularly to pass another version of an assault weapons ban, much as she co-sponsored when it was signed into law in 1994.

“President Obama, Mr. Romney, I think they should give it a lot of consideration,” she told Fox News. “I think this is a bad time to brace a new subject, but there has been no action. There has been no action because there’s been no outreach out there. People haven’t rallied forward.”

She echoed comments made by Bloomberg on Friday when he spoke of the shootings and ways of preventing other tragedies: “Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.
But Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat whose district includes Aurora, said it was time for Congress to take the initiative and reinstate the assault weapons ban and potentially pass new restrictions on the ability to get high-capacity ammunition.

“We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition,” Perlmutter said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’. “He had enough ammunition for, like, a small army. There’s something wrong about that. To that point, the mayor is correct. But I think he’s putting his finger on the wrong spot. This is a congressional issue.”

In his remarks, the President made no direct mention of backing gun control legislation or specific proposals to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, but he said “over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.”

Earlier on the flight to Colorado aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the President “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.”

Asked if indeed there was not enough political support for the reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban, Carney said, “I wouldn’t argue with your assessment about that.”


Check out more of our coverage on the shooting in Colorado:

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