HARTFORD, Connecticut (AFP) - President Barack Obama Monday vowed not to walk away from his promise to stem gun violence after the Newtown school massacre - even as prospects for meaningful reform seemed doubtful.
Obama traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down by a deranged lone assailant in December, plunging America into deep shock.
The president sought to shame lawmakers, including some Republicans who are threatening to use procedural measures to stall Senate debate on gun reform, into allowing votes on specific gun control measures.
"For these families, it was a day that changed everything," said Obama, noting that victims' families refer to the December 14 killings as "12-14" in the same way those bereaved on September 11, 2001 refer to "9-11." "I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promises we made in those dark days - if we'd change, or if, once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up - your country would move on to other things." "Newtown, we want you to know that we're here with you. We will not walk away from the promises we've made. We are as determined as ever to do what must be done." "In fact, I am here to ask you to help me show that we can get it done." Obama spoke in Hartford, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Newtown to a rowdy and supportive crowd.
Joining him on Air Force One later to head back to Washington to begin an intense lobbying effort as Congress returns from a recess will be family members of victims of the Newtown shootings.
The president pledged to use all the power of his office to enact measures to stem violence after December's killings, but as their memory has faded, the tricky politics of Washington has chipped away at his reform package.
Obama's calls for a revived ban on assault weapons and limits on high capacity magazines appear unlikely to pass Congress, and doubt clouds the prospects of another plan - for expanded background checks for gun owners.
The president admitted last week that "it's going to be tougher to get better gun legislation to reduce gun violence through the Senate and the House that so many of us I think want to see." Most Republicans oppose most Obama-backed gun reform plans, but the president also has problems from within his own party from Democratic senators hailing from conservative or rural states who are wary of more gun control.
The president is concentrating his efforts on background checks as intense negotiations take place on Capitol Hill.
Obama also highlighted tough new gun ownership rules signed into law by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy last week which would ban 100 makes of rifles - including the Bushmaster AR-15 used by killer Adam Lanza in Newtown.
"Now is the time for Congress to do the same," Obama said.
"This week is the time for Congress to do the same."