Obama tells families of Navy Yard victims: 'We can't accept this'

President Obama delivered a somber speech Sunday at a memorial for the Navy Yard mass shooting’s 12 victims, saying, "We can't accept this" and must address gun violence. 

Speaking at the Marine Barracks in Washington, Obama said he too often has had to comfort grieving families because of mass shootings. The president said he is worried that there is “a creeping resignation” among Americans that nothing can be done in response to tragedies like the shooting last Monday.

“Sometimes I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal,” Obama said, but insisting that “we cannot accept this” as a nation.

“We must insist here today that there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work. There is nothing normal about our children being gunned down in their classrooms. There is nothing normal about children dying in our streets from stray bullets. No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. None.”

Obama noted that other countries, like Australia and the United Kingdom, reformed their laws after they experienced mass shootings, making them a rarity. The president said the availability of guns here in the United States is the reason why.

“The main difference that sets our nation apart, what makes us so susceptible to so many mass shootings is that we don’t do enough; we don’t take the basic common-sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. What’s different in America, it’s easy to get your hands on a gun, and a lot of us know this,” Obama said.

Obama recounted stories of the victims from the shooting, including Arthur Daniels, whose 14-year-old son was also shot and killed in 2009. The president said the nation’s grieving for the families is not enough and that action must be taken.

“Our tears are not enough. Our words and our prayers are not enough,” Obama said. “If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, if we really want to be a country where we go to work, go to school and walk our streets free from senseless violence without so many lives being stolen by a bullet from a gun, then we’re going to have to change.”

The White House has pushed for stronger gun control this year but saw their effort for more expansive background checks on gun sales fail in the Senate. Obama campaigned for tougher gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last year that left 20 children and six school employees dead.

Obama said as president he has grieved with five American communities — Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; and now the Navy Yard — that have fallen victim to mass shootings. He noted those events occurred “against a backdrop of daily tragedies as an epidemic of gun violence tears apart communities across America, from the streets of Chicago to neighborhoods not far from here.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, speaking at the memorial, also called for gun control. Gray said gun violence has become a fact of life in Washington and America’s other big cities, but that must change.

“It’s a fact of life that we must stop accepting,” Gray said.

Senior officials from the Obama administration, such as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, also spoke at the memorial.

“We will remember the valor of the Navy Yard personnel, all the people in the Building 197. And we will remember that in the face of tragedy, the United States Navy is once again responding with resolve,” Hagel said.

Toward the close of his speech, Obama said we must change in order to spare others from gun violence.

“Wisdom comes through the recognition that tragedies such as this are not inevitable and that we possess the ability to act, and to change, and to spare others the pain that drops upon our hearts,” Obama said. “So in our grief, let us seek that grace. Let us find that wisdom. And in doing so, let us truly honor these 12 American patriots.”