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Obama honors shooting victims, urges Americans to help stop gun violence

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Sept. 22, 2013: President Obama wipes his eye as he is seated with first lady Michelle Obama at a memorial service for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. (AP)

President Obama paid tribute Sunday to the 12 civilians killed last week in the Washington Navy Yard shootings and urged Americans to help take guns “out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people.”

Obama told the country that the service, in the shadows of Capitol Hill, marks the fifth time that he as president has remembered victims of a mass shooting and tried to console their grieving families.   

“It ought to be a shock to us,” Obama said in his roughly 15-minute speech. “It ought to lead us to some sort of transformation. … Our hearts are broken again.”

The president, in a somber but defiant tone, suggested that Washington and the rest of the country has lost its resolve to end the level of gun violence that sets the United States apart from other countries.

“After all of the speeches, all of the punditry, nothing,” he said on the warm day in early fall.

Obama said he senses “a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just the way it is -- a new normal. We cannot accept this. There’s nothing normal about innocent people getting gunned down at work.”

The shooter in the attack has been identified as Aaron Alexis, an IT contractor with an apparent history of emotional problems. Despite his issues, Alexis still had security access to the naval facility and was able to purchase a weapon.

Obama’s efforts to pass tighter federal gun laws failed in Congress after a mass shooting on December 12 at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut that took the lives of 26 people, including 20 children.

Among the proposed changes were tougher background checks for potential gun buyers.

Congress has expressed no interest in renewing the gun debate since the recent shootings.

However, Obama said Sunday that change “might not happen next week, or next month. But it will happen.”

On Saturday, he urged members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to continue efforts to tighten gun laws.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama met privately with the families of the victims before the memorial ceremony.

And the president took time during his speech to mentions several of the victims’ names and share their stories, including that of 52-year-old Richard Michael Ridgell, whom Obama described as a “dedicated father” who coached his daughter’s sports teams.

The names of the other victims are Michael Wells Arnold, Martin John Bodrog, Arthur Lee Daniels, Sylvia Renee Frasier, Kathleen Nark Gaarde, John Roger Johnson, Mary Francis Knight, Frank Edwin Kohler, Vishnu Shalchendia Pandit, Kenneth Bernard Proctor and Gerald Eugene Read.

“These are not statistics,” Obama said. “They are the lives that have been taken from us.”