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Obama Tries To Comfort A Grieving Newtown

President Obama challenged the nation to do more to prevent gun violence, during an interfaith memorial service for victims of Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. He says the country as a whole is left with hard questions after last week's massacre.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And that small community held a memorial service last night. In attendance: President Obama. He conveyed the love and prayers of a nation stunned by Friday's massacre. Mr. Obama also vowed to use whatever powers he can to address gun violence, declaring surely we can do better than this.

NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama drew both chuckles and sobs from the audience at Newtown High School as he recalled the resilience of the youngsters who walked away from the shooting spree, and the courage of the adults who gave their lives to protect those in their care. Mr. Obama said this is how Newtown will be remembered.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In the face of unconscionable evil, you looked out for each other, and you've cared for one another and you've loved one another.

HORSLEY: But even as a Connecticut community rallies, Mr. Obama says the country has to ask itself some hard questions after last week's massacre. He says while there's nothing a parent won't do to protect his or her child, ultimately, it takes more than parents. The job of keeping kids safe, he said, is something we can only do together.

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OBAMA: Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children - all of them - safe from harm?

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama spoke bluntly, saying the answer is no. This was the fourth time in as many years the president's had to address a community that's grieving after a mass shooting. Beyond the headlines from places like Aurora, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona and now Newtown, there are also the countless shootings not as famous, but equally deadly, that take scores of lives in the U.S. on even an average day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

HORSLEY: In the audience last night, soon-to-retire Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said he favors restoring the ban on assault weapons - that was law until 2004 - as well as closing a loophole that allows people to buy guns at gun shows without a background check. Mr. Obama acknowledged no single law or even set of laws can eliminate the threat of gun violence, but after telling Connecticut's governor that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency, Mr. Obama seems newly determined to do something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens - from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators - in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.

HORSLEY: While a number of big city mayors have tried to crack down on gun violence, most national politicians have shown little appetite for the issue in recent years. Gun control advocates hope Friday's shooting might change that. Mr. Obama seems eager to seize the opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

HORSLEY: The president himself no longer has to fear the gun lobby now that he's won reelection. And the murder of so many young children has again shocked sensibilities - maybe so much it will spur policymakers into action. Mr. Obama ended his remarks last night by naming all 20 children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and by offering a prayer for the rest of us to make a country worthy of their memory. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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