NEWTOWN, Conn. — For President Barack Obama, it was another sorrowful visit to another grieving community full of broken hearts from unimaginable violence.
The spot, this time, was Newtown, Conn., where on Friday a man opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. The toll: 26 dead, including 20 boys and girls just 6 or 7 years old.
The president met privately Sunday afternoon at Newtown High School, about a mile and a half from Sandy Hook Elementary, with families of the victims and with emergency personnel who responded to the shootings.
In the evening, he was to speak at an interfaith vigil. As the auditorium began to fill, people wore looks of disbelief. Many parents came with their children, some of the boys and girls holding teddy bears and other stuffed toys. The black stage was spare, with just an American flag, a Connecticut flag and a lectern bearing the presidential seal.
"We're halfway between grief and hope," said Curt Brantl, whose fourth-grade daughter was in the library of the elementary school when the shootings occurred. She was not harmed.
Obama was addressing not only the residents of Newtown, but also a stunned nation.
A White House official said Obama is the primary author of his speech and edited his remarks on the flight to Connecticut with presidential speechwriter Cody Keenan.
Keenan helped Obama write his speech last year following the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabby Giffords.
"As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years," Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "An elementary school in Newtown. A shopping mall in Oregon. A house of worship in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia."
Just last summer, Obama went to Aurora, Colo., to visit victims and families after a shooting spree at a movie theater in the Denver suburb left 12 dead. He went to Tucson, Ariz., in January of last year after six people were killed and 13 were wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, outside a grocery store.
In November 2009, Obama traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to speak at the memorial service for 13 service members who were killed on the post by another soldier.
"We have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics," Obama said in his broadcast remarks.
After the Colorado shooting in July, the White House made clear that Obama would not propose new gun restrictions in an election year and said he favored better enforcement of existing laws.
The Connecticut shootings may have changed the political dynamic in Washington, although public opinion in favor of gun control has declined over the years. While the White House has said Obama stands by his desire to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, he has not pushed Congress to act.
Several Democratic lawmakers, during appearances on the Sunday talk shows, said the gruesome killings at the school were the final straw in a debate on gun laws that has fallen to the wayside in recent years.
"This conversation has been dominated in Washington by — you know and I know — gun lobbies that have an agenda," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. "We need people, just ordinary Americans, to come together, and speak out, and to sit down and calmly reflect on how far we go."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is retiring, suggested a national commission on mass violence that would examine gun laws and what critics see as loopholes, as well as the mental health system and violence in movies and video games. Durbin said he supports the idea, and would add school safety to the list of topics to examine.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would push legislation next year to ban future sales of military-assault weapons like those used in the elementary school shooting. The bill will ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
The proposals were among the first to come from Congress in the wake of Friday's shooting. Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the talk shows.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, defended the sale of assault weapons and said the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should have been armed.
Authorities identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who police say first killed his mother before driving to the school, opening fire in two classrooms and then taking his own life.
Before leaving for Connecticut, the president watched a dance rehearsal for one of his daughters in suburban Maryland.
As he said in his radio address, "this weekend, Michelle and I are doing what I know every parent is doing — holding our children as close as we can and reminding them how much we love them."
Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty and Josh Lederman contributed to this report. Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn
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