Obama joins mourners in US shooting town
Published on Dec 17, 2012 6:21 AM
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AFP) - United States (US) President Barack Obama flew on Sunday to Connecticut to join those mourning the 20 young children and seven adults killed in America's latest mass shooting tragedy.
As Mr Obama left Washington for heartbroken Newtown, there was growing talk that perhaps America had reached a tipping point of revulsion that would force at least some kind of action to curb its stubborn addiction to guns.
A prominent Democratic lawmaker, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, promised to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the very first day of the next Congress, Jan 3.
That's the kind of killing machine employed in the massacre here on Friday in this small town now doomed to suffer a recurring nightmare for a long time to come.
Nerves remained on edge. One Catholic church where people attended services on Sunday - Saint Rose of Lima - was evacuated due to an undisclosed threat.
Armed police searched a house next door.
In ways big and small, tributes were paid - from candles lit and teddy bears left at the elementary school crime scene, to gestures at the cavernous football stadiums that usually fixate Americans' attention on Sundays.
Before the day's games, the National Football League had teams observe a minute's silence in memory of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and seven adults killed by a reportedly disturbed young man who apparently took his own life.
Mr Obama will meet with families of victims and first responders who had to view the carnage, and attend an interfaith vigil in Newtown, until now a quaint postcard-pretty town of 27,000.
As townsfolk awaited the president, they poured into churches to pray and seek solace over the unimaginable - a gunman pumping shot after shot into small children with a rifle of the kind used in wars.
Six adults at the school were also killed. The shooter first killed his mother at her home before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School and carrying out the slaughter in two classrooms of first graders, then killed himself as sirens rang out and police arrived.
From early Sunday, churches filled and the town Christmas tree became an impromptu place of remembrance, with people pausing every few minutes to pray and cross themselves under a light snowfall.
One middle-aged woman knelt down in front of the ranks of votive candles, teddy bears and handwritten notes, and bowed her head in tears.
"The community is gathering together and praying," Rosty Slabicky, a Red Cross volunteer told AFP at the Saint Rose of Lima Church, where worshipers flocked to Mass.
"They are destroyed," Ms Slabicky said. "Not just the families, but the first responders are dealing with the crisis in a very personal and emotional level."
Meanwhile, the investigation entered an important new stage with the autopsy of shooter Adam Lanza.
Coroners, who on Saturday formally identified all the school victims, were turning their attention to Lanza, who at 20 years old was seen as a withdrawn and awkward youngster, but had shown no signs of violence, let alone any indications that he might perpetrate a massacre.
Lanza's main weapon was a .223 caliber Bushmaster, a civilian version of the US military's M4 - registered to his mother. Police have said that he had three other weapons with him, including two pistols.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy revealed that Lanza blasted his way into the school, which had just installed a new security door where visitors could be viewed by video camera and buzzed in.
"He shot his way into the building. He penetrated the building by literally shooting an entrance into the building. That's what an assault weapon can do for you," Mr Malloy said on CNN.
The tragedy revived calls for stricter laws on gun ownership, particularly regarding military-style rifles, which fire bullets designed to tear a target apart, but are marketed as regular hunting weapons.
"There will be a bill," insisted Ms Feinstein, a longtime gun-control advocate, referring to legislation banning assault weapons.
"It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession.
Not retroactively, but prospectively. It will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets," she told NBC television.
Many states, including Connecticut, already have strict laws on the purchase of firearms, but with no federal statutes, there is little to stop the traffic of guns from other states where fewer restrictions apply.
An assault weapon ban was passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton but it expired in 2004 and was never resurrected. Obama supported restoring the law while running for president in 2008 but did not make it a priority during his first term.
"We have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this," Mr Obama said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.
"Regardless of the politics." However, with gun ownership protected by the constitution and firearms popular among a broad base of Americans, especially conservative Republicans, gun bans have long been seen as a vote-losing proposition.