WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will attend an evening vigil in Newtown, Conn., on Sunday to mourn with a town still seeking to comprehend the unimaginable massacre of its children and teachers.
His visit to this western Connecticut community comes two days after a man opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School killing 26 people, including 20 boys and girls just 6 or 7 years old.
Authorities identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who police say first killed his mother before driving to the school, opening fire in two classrooms and then taking his own life.
Obama will visit privately with families of the victims and with emergency personnel who responded to the shootings. He then will then speak at an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School.
Obama could barely contain his emotions Friday, speaking tearfully at the White House and expressing his sympathy as a parent and a president. He reiterated his message Saturday morning in his usual weekend radio address, declaring that "every parent in America has a heart heavy with hurt" and asserting that it was time to "take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this."
For the president, this is the fourth trip of his presidency to a community still grieving from a mass shooting.
Just last summer, Obama went to Aurora, Colorado, to visit victims and families after a shooting spree at a movie theater in the Denver suburb left 12 dead. He went to Tucson, Arizona, in January of last year after six people were killed and 13 wounded, including then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, outside a grocery store. And in November 2009, Obama traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to speak at the memorial service for 13 service members who were killed on the post by another soldier.
"As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years," Obama said in his radio address Saturday.
The Newtown shootings and Obama's vague but declarative call for "meaningful action" has reignited a debate over gun laws and raised an expectation among gun control advocates that Obama will seek changes. But public opinion in favor of gun control has declined over the years. And while the White House has said Obama stands by his desire to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, he has not pushed Congress to act.
After the Colorado shooting in July, the White House made clear that Obama would not propose new gun restrictions in an election year and said he favored better enforcement of existing laws.
According to the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, Obama has signed into law more repeals of federal gun policies than President George W. Bush did during his two terms. Many of those repeals were inserted as amendments to broader, unrelated legislation. The Brady Campaign is named after James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was shot and disabled in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981.