President Barack Obama delivered an emotional plea Thursday for lawmakers to pass legislation intended to curb gun violence, saying Americans couldn’t possibly have forgotten the horror three months ago of 20 children shot to death in their elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked,” Obama said. “And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
Obama, speaking at an event in the White House, urged every American to call members of Congress to urge them to put aside political considerations and vote for a series of proposals that polls find have support from most people.
“There are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all,” he said. “They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.”
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A spokesman for the National Rifle Association, the politically powerful gun rights organization, said Obama should stop holding news conferences and do his job.
“If President Obama wanted to reduce gun violence in this country, then he would start instructing its Justice Department to prosecute gun crime,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.
The Senate will consider a package of proposals next month that include requiring background checks for all firearms purchases and increased penalties for gun traffickers. Two bills to ban assault weapons and limit the amount of ammunition allowed in magazines have less support and will be considered separately.
Across the nation, activists from victims to mayors participated in more than 120 events Thursday as part of a National Day of Action to pressure Congress. They described the day as one of the largest anti-gun-violence events in U.S. history.
It was the same day that newly released search warrants showed that police had found more than a thousand rounds of ammunition, an unlocked gun safe and samurai swords in Newtown gunman Adam Lanza’s home
Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, stood in front of 20 mothers who’d been affected by gun violence, including one who’d lost her child 35 days ago. At least two women were visibly emotional, crying or fighting back tears. The White House declined to name the women.
Nearly 200 supporters of the legislation filled the White House East Room, including the families of three of the Newtown victims and the mother of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed on her way to school two months ago in Chicago.
“As any of the families and friends who are here today can tell you, the grief doesn’t ever go away,” Obama said. “Amen,” several women responded.
“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we’ve moved on to other things, that’s not who we are,” he said. “That’s not who we are.”
Obama was introduced by Katerina Rodgaard, a lawyer, teacher and mother of two young children from Maryland who lost one of her dance students, Reema Samaha, 18, in the massacre at Virginia Tech six years ago. After Newtown, Rodgaard said, she “no longer felt it was safe to raise a family in this country.”
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of the nation’s leading gun-control groups, founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on Thursday launched the first TV ads featuring family members of those killed in Newtown. The ads are airing in Connecticut.
Obama will travel to Denver next Wednesday to continue his push for gun legislation.