US President Barack Obama vowed Sunday to battle gun violence, casting the fight as a nation's duty to protect its young, as a Connecticut town prepared to bury the first two victims of last week's rampage at an elementary school.
Speaking at a vigil for the dead, which included 20 six- and seven-year-olds, Obama pledged to use all his power to stop such gun massacres, saying “these tragedies must end.”
Newtown, home to the Sandy Hook Elementary School where Adam Lanza, 20, unleashed terror with a military-style assault rifle Friday, will hold the first two funerals on Monday, with more scheduled throughout the week, according to local website Newtown Patch.
Six-year-old Noah Pozner will be buried at the B'Nai Israel Cemetery, while Jack Pinto, also six, is to be buried in the Newtown Village Cemetery.
The other victims of the shooting included six teachers and support staff at the school, as well as the shooter's mother and the shooter himself.
Obama, called for the fourth time in his presidency to eulogise the dead of a mass gun crime, appeared to commit himself to a genuine effort to reform firearms laws, perhaps by leading a push to restore a ban on assault weapons like the one used by Lanza, which expired in 2004.
He did not cast the fight against the entrenched gun lobby, which wields substantial power in Congress, as an effort to confiscate weapons - a desire his most vehement conservative opponents often say he harbours.
But he suggested that the argument should be built more on the need to protect, innocent, defenseless children.
“Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?” he implored, as candles burned by his podium to remember the victims.
“I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We are not doing enough, and we will have to change.”
Obama's impassioned remarks did not propose specific solutions, in keeping with the sombre tone of the apolitical vigil service.
Heartrending sobs broke the silence as Obama slowly read the names of the children whose lives were taken and the adults who died trying to protect them.
“They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school, in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America,” Obama said.
“We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change,” the newly re-elected president added, implicitly rebuking those who argue that efforts to introduce more gun control laws would do little to stop killings.
Many states, including Connecticut, already have strict laws on the purchase of firearms, but with no federal statutes, there is little to stop the traffic of guns from other states where fewer restrictions apply.
A federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, and efforts to revive it have failed. Obama, who has on several occasions proven better at framing problems in powerful rhetoric than in mustering the political coalition to enact change, supported restoring the law while running for president in 2008 but has not made it a priority since.
The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is well-funded and a powerful player in Washington. It argues that crazy people do crazy things and that clamping down on fundamental American liberties will achieve nothing.
Others point out that Anders Behring Breivik, for example, managed to kill 77 people in Norway, a country with far tighter gun laws than the United States.
Another commonly heard conservative argument is that guns are inevitable, so the only way to really protect people is to have more weapons in the hands of trained professionals, securing places like schools and shopping malls.
Gun control advocates recoil from such logic and say that regardless it must make sense to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California promised to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the very first day of the next Congress, January 3.
But with gun ownership protected by the constitution and firearms popular among a broad base of Americans, especially conservative Republicans, gun bans have long been seen as a vote-losing proposition.
At Sunday's vigil, the voices of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders united in grief as mourners grasped for meaning amid unbearable loss.
First responders called to Sandy Hook Elementary School after the fusillade, who arrived to find classrooms of dead children, were applauded as the crowd stood when they entered the room.
State governor Dan Malloy tried to offer hope to the traumatised families.
Though “we will never forget, we will in many ways be made stronger for what has transpired, and we will get better,” he said.
“We will go on. We will find strength. Faith is a gift, as is our ability to support one another in our greater community,” he added.
Lanza used his mother's Bushmaster .223 assault rifle to kill 26 people at the school, including the 20 young children, before taking his own life with a handgun as police officers closed in and sirens wailed.
Connecticut's Chief Medical Examiner Wayne Carver has said the bodies of the child victims were riddled with as many as 11 bullets.
Two days after the shooting, nerves remained on edge in Newtown. One Catholic church - Saint Rose of Lima - was evacuated due to an undisclosed threat. Armed police searched a house next door.
Newtown was the second deadliest school shooting in US history after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, in which South Korean student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before taking his own life.
In the most notorious recent incident, a 24-year-old, James Holmes, allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 others when he opened fire at a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, in July. - Sapa-AFP