Obama Comforts Families Of Navy Yard Shooting

President Obama spoke at a memorial service Sunday for the victims of last week's shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. The president and first lady also met with families of the dead. Twelve people were killed in addition to the gunman, who died in a shootout with police.

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The weekend of this Kenya shooting, also the weekend that President Obama remembered victims of a mass shooting in the United States. Twelve people were killed a week ago when a civilian contractor entered the Washington Navy Yard with a sawed-off shotgun.

The president said the nation must confront what he called an epidemic of gun violence. But after failing to push a gun control bill through Congress, Obama now says change will have to come from outside Washington. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAVY YARD SHOOTING MEMORIAL SERVICE)

(SONG, "TAPS")

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Flags flying at half-staff billowed in the late summer breeze yesterday as thousands of people gathered on the parade ground not far from the Navy Yard, for a solemn roll call of the victims of last week's shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Michael Wells Arnold.

(BELL RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Martin John Bodrog.

(BELL RINGING)

HORSLEY: None of the victims is a statistic, President Obama said. Each had a unique story: the dedicated father, the loyal hockey fan, the man who gave dictionaries to every third-grader in his county.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They're your neighbors - like Arthur Daniels, out there on the weekend, polishing his white Crown Victoria; and Kenneth Proctor with his beloved yellow Mustang, who, if you asked, would fix your car, too.

HORSLEY: There's nothing routine about their loss, the president said, and yet this is the fifth time this president's had to gather with a community in mourning over mass murder. The Washington Navy Yard joins a growing list of once-peaceful settings that were suddenly transformed into bloody combat zones: Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn. That's on top of the everyday gun violence that Obama says gives the United States a firearm murder rate of 10 times that of other developed countries.

OBAMA: It ought to be a shock to all of us as a nation, and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.

HORSLEY: Obama notes both Britain and Australia successfully acted to crack down on mass killings after a single massacre in each country. Here in the U.S., though, he warned about a creeping sense of resignation.

OBAMA: After all the speeches and all the punditry and all the commentary, nothing happens.

HORSLEY: After last year's massacre of 20 elementary schoolchildren, Obama vowed to use all the power of his presidency to push for new gun-safety legislation, including universal background checks. Despite widespread public support, though, that measure stalled in the Senate. And earlier in this month, two state lawmakers in Colorado who backed similar legislation were recalled by voters, after a campaign fueled by the National Rifle Association. The NRA's Wayne LaPierre argued on "Meet the Press" yesterday there's no reason to subject more gun buyers to background checks, noting that checks failed to stoop the shooters believed responsible for three of the mass shootings cited by the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

WAYNE LAPIERRE: So the Aurora shooter in Colorado gets checked and is cleared. The Tucson shooter gets checked and gets cleared. Aaron Alexis goes through the federal and state check and gets cleared, because the mental health system makes this person completely unrecognized.

HORSLEY: At yesterday's memorial service, Obama acknowledged the need for better mental health care, and he's ordered a review of security at all military bases. Still, the president says neither of those factors can fully explain America's dubious record of bloodshed.

OBAMA: What's different in America is, it's easy to get your hands on a gun.

HORSLEY: Nodding to the difficult politics of gun control, Obama did not suggest he'll try again to push legislation through Congress. By now, it should be clear, he said - change in Washington will not happen until the demand for it comes from the American people.

OBAMA: And it may not happen tomorrow, and it may not happen next week; it may not happen next month. But it will happen because it's the change that we need. And it's a change overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Americans.

HORSLEY: Obama said that change is the real way to honor the victims of last week's shooting. Tears and prayers, he said, are not enough.

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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