Obama was addressing about 4,000 people, including loved ones of the slain, who gathered outdoors at the Marine Corps Barracks at Eighth and I streets SE, a few blocks from the Navy Yard. The president did not vow to throw the weight of his presidency behind an effort to enact gun-control legislation, as he did in December at a memorial service after
the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Instead, he urged the nation to demand such measures.
“By now . . . it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington,” he said at Sunday’s service on the barracks parade grounds. “Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that’s from the American people.”
The Navy Yard gunman, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist with a recent history of mental problems, opened fire in Building 197, first with a shotgun, then with a pistol, killing nine men and three women. All the victims worked in the building, which houses the Naval Sea Systems Command.
“Part of what wears on . . . is the sense that this has happened before,” the president said. “What wears on us, what troubles us so deeply, as we gather here today is this senseless violence that took place in the Navy Yard echoes other recent tragedies.”
And he intoned the names of the places he has visited as president in the wake of mass homicides: Fort Hood, Tex.; Tucson; Aurora, Colo., and Newtown. “Once more our hearts are broken,” he said. “Once more we ask why.”
Joined on stage by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other dignitaries, Obama shared personal details about each of the Navy Yard victims, saying: “These are not statistics. They are the lives that have been taken from us. This is how a single act of violence can ripple.
“A husband lost his wife. Wives have lost their husbands. Sons and daughters have lost their moms and their dads. Little children have lost their grandparents. Hundreds in our communities have lost a neighbor. And thousands here have lost a friend.”
Echoing Obama, Gray told the gathering that “our country is drowning in a sea of guns. . . . Senseless violence like this is an all-too-everyday fact of life here in the District and in our nation’s other big cities. It is a fact of life that we must stop accepting.”