Obama delivers powerful pledge

US President Barack Obama speaking in Newtown, 16 December 2012 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Barack Obama referred to the four mass killings that have happened under his presidency

President Obama has promised to use the power of his office to do all he can to prevent another massacre of the innocent.

He didn't directly mention gun control, but speaking in front of an audience of the bereaved and their friends in Newtown, it is the strongest pledge a president has ever made to wrestle with the powerful gun lobby.

He spoke not from the Oval Office, or some grand convention centre, but at a prayer vigil that could have been in any small town.

It all seemed so familiar.

At the beginning the blue curtains were pulled back either side of the stage, people of all ages sat in the rows of chairs, the piano played familiar tunes, a baby interrupted with a cry.

It could have been a village hall anywhere in this country or our own, about to celebrate a nativity or watch a pantomime.

But it wasn't just any where, it was Newtown.

This simple, homespun service brought home the sense that an ordinary place and ordinary people have been struck by a blow so grotesquely out of the ordinary that it makes a country beg for meaning.

Struggling for a response

Yet it isn't out of the ordinary at all.

As the president pointed out, there have been four such mass murders during his presidency, punctuated by other killings, almost weekly tragedies.

As a late arrival here, I really get the feeling of a country struggling to find an appropriate response to this home-grown horror.

I have heard questions about video games, violence, young men and mental health.

TV stations have aired discussion about God's will, and with near desperation seek stories of heroism to redeem an American narrative.

But it keeps coming back to that assault rifle that was used to murder so many.

It is hard for many in Britain to understand the meaning of guns in America, the association with rights and freedoms.

To some the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms is a bulwark against tyranny, as well as a means of practical self-protection.

But the president spoke of the desperate need of parents to do all they can to protect their children and asked:

"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?"

As yet supporters of liberal gun laws remain silent, doubtless hoping the wave of emotion will pass from the headlines and nothing will change.

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