President Obama called on Americans to refuse to accept tragedies like Monday's mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard as a normal part of life at a memorial service for the 12 people killed. "The tragedy and the pain that brings us here is extraordinary and unique."
"Alongside the anguish of these American families, alongside the accumulated outrage we feel, I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are somehow just the way it is, that this is the new normal," Obama said Sunday. "We can’t accept this. We must insist here, today, that there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work."
As the nation faces the aftermath of the fifth mass shooting of Obama's administration, the president pleaded again for a common sense approach to guns. "We cannot stop every act of senseless violence, know every evil that lurks in troubled minds. But if we can prevent even one tragedy like this, save even one live, spare other families…surely we’ve got an obligation to try."
Obama challenged Americans to move beyond mourning and into action.
“Do we care enough to do everything we can to spare other families that is felt here today?" he asked. "Our tears are not enough. Our words and our prayers are not enough.”
Aaron Alexis, a Navy veteran who had access to the Yard from his work as a subcontractor of Hewlett Packard with an IT firm called "The Experts," entered the Washington Navy Yard on Monday shooting and killing 12 people before dying in a shootout with law enforcement.
The president, Secretary of State Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray all offered words of condolence to the families gathered together to mourn their loved ones. "Our country is drowning in a sea of guns," Gray said, and that the violent deaths of men, women and children are a "fact of life that we must stop accepting."
Monday's shooting "ought to be a shock to all of us, it ought to obsess us," Obama said. "It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That’s what happened in other countries when they experienced similar tragedies." The president cited Great Britain and Australia—two countries that enacted strict gun control after mass shootings. Yet, efforts to expand background checks, or limit the size of gun magazines, after the massacres in Tucson, Ft. Hood, Oak Creek, Aurora, and Newtown, have all failed thanks in part to the lobbying of the National Rifle Association.
"In the US, after the round the clock coverage on cable news, after the heartbreaking interviews with families, after all the speeches, and all the punditry, and the conmmentary, nothing happens," Obama said.
Before the names of the victims were read by Admiral Mark Tidd, Obama laid out some of what was lost in the violence, from the grandchildren left behind to the fact that Sylvia Fraser, one of the victims, loved people so much that she took a second job at Walmart. "These are not statistics," the president said.
The shooting has raised questions about security on military bases, and Hagel announced Wednesday that the Defense Department would review those procedures at bases around the world. There will also be a review into the security clearance process that granted Alexis the credentials to enter the base on the day of the shooting despite repeated incidents that suggested he was unstable.
There has been virtually no discussion of potential legislation; in addition to the Congress being tied up in the showdown over the budget and a possible government shutdown, the debt ceiling, and defunding the Affordable Care Act, the failure to pass a bill in the wake of the last major mass shooting is still fresh.
Obama said in remarks at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event Saturday night that work to reduce violence must continue. “As long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we’ve got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children. We’ve got to be ones who are willing to do more work to make it harder,” he said. No specific plans have yet been suggested.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, told David Gregory Sunday on Meet the Press that the shooting could have been prevented or the death toll limited if more individuals on the Navy base had been armed. La Pierre used similar language to what he used when talking about Sandy Hook. “the whole country,” he said, “knows the problem is there weren't enough good guys with guns. When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped.”