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WASHINGTON — President Obama honored the victims of the Navy Yard shooting during a memorial service Sunday, serving once again as the nation’s consoler after a mass killing.
The service was held at the Marine barracks down the street from the Navy Yard, where a naval contractor armed with a shotgun killed 12 people and wounded a dozen more last week before being killed by police.
Mr. Obama memorialized the victims by urging Americans not to give up on a transformation in gun laws that he argued are to blame for an epidemic of violence.
He issued a call to action on gun control measures that failed to pass earlier this year and show no new momentum in the wake of last week’s rampage just blocks from the Capitol.
“Our tears are not enough,” Mr. Obama told thousands gathered to mourn.
“Our words and our prayers are not enough. If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, if we really want to be a country where we can go to work and 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.”
Mr. Obama said when such senseless deaths strike in America, “it ought to be a shock to all of us, it ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.”
But, he said, “nothing happens.”
“Alongside the anguish of these American families, alongside the accumulated outrage so many of us feel, sometimes I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal.
“We cannot accept this. As Americans bound in grief and love, we must insist here today there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work,” Mr. Obama said.
He said no other advanced nation endures the kind of gun violence seen in the United States, and blamed mass shootings in America on laws that fail “to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people.”
“What’s different in America is it’s easy to get your hands on a gun,” he said.
He acknowledged “the politics are difficult,” a lesson he learned after failing to get expanded background checks for gun buyers through the Democratic-controlled Senate this spring.
Mr. Obama had proposed the measure after the shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 20 first-graders and six staff.
“And that’s sometimes where the resignation comes from: the sense that our politics are frozen and that nothing will change. Well, I cannot accept that,” he said.
“By now, though, it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington. Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that’s from the American people.”
The President joined military leaders in eulogizing the dozen victims killed in last Monday’s shooting, speaking from the parade grounds at the Marine Barracks, a site personally selected by Thomas Jefferson because of its close marching distance to the Navy Yard.
The invitation-only crowd included around 4,000 mourners, with the victims’ tearful, black-clad family members directly in front of the speakers’ stage.
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with the families before the service, White House officials said.
Attending memorials for victims of mass shootings has become an all-too-familiar role for Mr. Obama, who has presided over similar services for victims in Newtown, Conn.; Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; and Fort Hood, Texas.
“Surely we can do better than this,” the President said. “If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town from the grief that has visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.”
In recent days, Mr. Obama has repeated his call for Congress to act to reduce the availability of guns to criminals and those who are mentally ill.
Aaron Alexis, the suspected gunman in the Navy Yard shooting, had a history of mental health problems.