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What Obama Could Do, As Chief Consoler



President Obama is in Newtown, Connecticut, at this hour to offer some comfort to a nation in mourning for the victims of Friday's school shooting. Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama met privately with the families of those who were killed. And later tonight, he'll speak at an interfaith memorial service in Newtown.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is with us now. And, Scott, sadly, the president has been here before.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Guy. He's had practice in this setting - earlier this year in Aurora, Colorado, in Tucson, Arizona, and back in 2009 after the shootings in Fort Hood, Texas. Obviously, no words can erase the pain caused by these killings. But what the president probably will do is highlight the courage and the compassion of those who responded to the tragedy.

And also what he's done in the past is to call on us, the living, to be worthy of those who are lost. In Tucson, he talked about young Christina-Taylor Green, the little girl who was just beginning to learn about democracy, who'd gone to meet her congresswoman in that shopping center when she was struck down. And the president said, I want us to live up to her expectations.

RAZ: Scott, yesterday in his address, the president called for meaningful action to prevent this kind of tragedy again. What does that mean?

HORSLEY: Well, the White House has not elaborated on that. Certainly, gun control advocates are hoping to see some change in what has been sort of national paralysis on that issue. After the Tucson shooting, we know the Justice Department did look at a number of steps designed to make it more difficult for disturbed people to obtain weapons - better background checks, maybe closing the gun show loophole.

There are some lawmakers who want to go further and ban high-capacity magazines and renew the ban on assault weapons. It's hard to say if those would have made any difference in this instance. From what we know, the guns that Adam Lanza used were legally owned by his mother. But, Guy, I can't help notice that in amongst the coverage of this tragedy, there was a story out of China of a man who went to a school, armed with a knife, stabbed 22 people. No one died.

RAZ: Scott, we hear about political paralysis when it comes to gun control, and it's too much of a hot-button issue. Is there any reason to think that this shooting will change that in ways that others have not?

HORSLEY: Well, it's hard to say. The president is certainly a political realist, and that's one reason he hasn't pursued this issue very aggressively in the past. But he did sound a new note of determination when he talked about doing something meaningful in this case. And certainly, this case has shocked the sensibility of the country in a way that others haven't because so many of the victims were so young.

What's more, of course, Mr. Obama has just won a decisive re-election. The gun lobby holds no threat for him anymore. Of course, that's not true for many of the lawmakers whose help he might need.

RAZ: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.