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Washington - President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea on Sunday for Americans to overcome their “creeping resignation” about gun violence and demand tougher gun laws following the country's latest mass shooting.
“I'm here today to say there's nothing routine about this tragedy. There's nothing routine about your loss,” Obama told families at a memorial service for 12 people killed by a gunman last week at the Washington Navy Yard.
“Sometimes I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is,” he said at the outdoor service at Marine Barracks Washington, less than three blocks from the base where three women and nine men died in the attack.
“We must insist here today there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work,” Obama said.
Authorities have identified the shooter as Aaron Alexis, 34, a former US Navy reservist working as an information technology contractor. He was killed in a gun battle with police.
There were signs that Alexis had untreated mental health issues. Rhode Island police had warned the Navy in August that Alexis had reported “hearing voices” and said he believed people were following him and “sending vibrations into his body”.
Obama said the US military needs to do more to secure its facilities, and he said the country must also make mental health treatment more available.
But he also railed against lax gun laws that he blamed for murder rates in the United States that are three times higher than in other developed nations.
“No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. None,” he said.
“What's different in America is it's easy to get your hands on a gun,” he said.
Before the service, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with families of the victims, all civilians who worked at the complex not far from Capitol Hill.
“These are not statistics,” Obama said, after he spoke about the lives and loves of each of the victims.
But to honour the lives of the victims, Obama said Americans must do more than extend thoughts and prayers to their families.
“It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead us to some sort of transformation,” he said, noting this was the fifth time in his presidency he had spoken at a memorial service after a mass shooting.
Obama proposed new gun laws early this year after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
But Congress rejected his proposals to restrict sales of certain types of guns and require background checks for more types of gun sales.
The measures were fought by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, which said the proposals would infringe on Americans' constitutional rights.
An NRA leader criticised the Washington Navy Yard on Sunday for not having more personnel carrying guns, saying it left the base “unprotected”.
“This is a tragedy that should not have happened, a memorial service that should not be taking place, and victims that should not be victims,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice-president, said on NBC's Meet The Press programme.
Obama on Saturday told supporters that the fight for tougher gun laws is not over and “we've got to get back up and go back at it”.
But that fight, like Obama's other policy priorities, is likely to be sidelined by a battle with Congress over the budget that threatens to shut down the government.
Obama told the memorial service that he “cannot accept” that politics are too “frozen” to change gun laws, and urged Americans to demand change.
“By now, though, it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington,” he said.