President Obama has vowed to take action against gun violence in the United States following the shooting rampage that left 27 people dead, including 20 young children, in Newtown, Connecticut. All the children were aged between six and seven. It was the deadliest rampage at an elementary school in U.S. history. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his mother dead at their home before driving to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and forcing his way inside. Armed with a high-powered rifle, two handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Lanza shot up two classrooms — kindergarten and first grade — before taking his own life as police arrived at the scene. Lanza still had hundreds of additional rounds of ammo and another weapon in his car, suggesting he would have carried out more shootings had the police not closed in. Twelve of the victims were girls, and eight were boys. All six of the adult victims were women. The school victims all appeared to have suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Wayne Carver, called the crime scene the worst he had ever witnessed.
Dr. Wayne Carver: "I’ve been at this for a third of a century, and it’s — my sensibilities may not be the average man, but this probably is the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen. We did not bring the bodies and the families into contact. We took pictures of them, of their facial features. You have — it’s easier on the families when you do that."
The first of the funeral services for the Newtown victims begin today, with more to follow throughout the week. At a vigil for the victims Sunday night, President Obama vowed unspecified action to curb gun violence in the United States.
President Obama: "In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals, to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
Among the six adults who were killed — all women — was the principal and the psychologist, both who lunged at the shooter when he first came into the school, and the teachers protecting their students.
As news of the massacre spread on Friday, a group of demonstrators gathered outside the White House to call for stricter gun control and better services for the mentally ill.
Toby Quaranta: "I think that we have a real problem with identifying mental illnesses in this country. I think we have a real problem with treating people who have problems. We need to break that taboo, and we need to solve it; otherwise, we’re going to be here again and again and again."
Randall Luttenberg: "Guns are created for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to kill. Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. They have no place in our society, have no place in our communities, and there’s no claim of rights or sport or anything, in my mind, that justifies that."
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has already promised to introduce a new assault weapons ban on the first day of the new Congress, challenging President Obama to back the bill.
The New York Times reports the Obama administration abandoned a series of gun control measures one year ago as the 2012 election approached and House Republicans pushed a probe of the gun sting "Operation Fast and Furious." Drafted after the January 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, the Justice Department recommendations centered on improving and expanding the national background-check system to reduce access to weapons for criminals and the mentally ill. The list included several proposals that Obama could have enacted by executive order had he chosen to take action.
As the nation mourns the Newtown victims, a number of additional threats and shootings have been reported since the massacre. A Newtown church was evacuated on Sunday after police responded to a threat against those inside. An Indiana man equipped with a 47-gun arsenal was arrested on Sunday after allegedly threatening to kill children at a local elementary school. Oklahoma police arrested an 18-year-old high school student on Friday who was allegedly planning a school-shooting massacre. In Newport Beach, California, an alleged gunman was arrested after reportedly firing 50 shots in a mall parking lot. In San Antonio, Texas, two men were reportedly injured in a shooting at a movie theater Sunday night.
Egyptian voters headed to the polls on Saturday in a referendum on a controversial draft constitution. According to unofficial preliminary results, the document passed the first round with 57 percent of the vote with a turnout of just 31 percent. A second round is scheduled for this Saturday in remaining areas. A coalition of human rights groups has called for a revote, citing thousands of complaints of violations at the polls, including a lack of full judicial supervision. At a news conference, Khaled Dawoud of the opposition National Salvation Front accused authorities of rigging the outcome.
Khaled Dawoud: "We also condemn the clear process of rigging of the will of the Egyptian people through regular violations of the draft — of the referendum in the first stage, which went beyond the rigging which used to take place under the former regime, which was overthrown by the January 25th revolution. We also ask the committee overseeing the referendum to look seriously into the demand made by the NGOs today that the first round of the referendum should be repeated in light of the dangerous violations which were reported in all stages, including the counting."
At least 25 people have reportedly been killed in the latest Syrian government bombing of a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. The attack on the district of Yarmouk comes amidst fears the Syrian military is preparing a full-on ground assault to displace rebels from their positions. During a visit to neighboring Lebanon, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned the conflict in Syria is likely to get worse.
António Guterres: "It is high time for the international community to understand that this is not a conflict like many others. We are witnessing brutal fighting with tragic humanitarian consequences. And things are evolving in a way that make us foresee the possibility of 2013 being much more dramatic than 2012."
In Iraq, at least 20 people have been killed in a series of car bombings outside Shiite temples. The violence comes one day after at least 19 people died in attacks nationwide.
The number of people killed in this month’s massive typhoon in the southern Philippines has surpassed 1,020, with the toll expected to rise. Aid officials say more than 850 people remain missing.
The United States has refused to sign onto a new United Nations treaty calling for all countries to have equal say in governance of the Internet. A U.N. conference on a new global international communications treaty ended Friday with an agreement to bring the Internet under U.N. auspices. But the United States, along with key allies including Britain and Canada, refused to join, saying U.N. jurisdiction would hand too much control to unfavorable governments. The treaty is slated to take effect in 2015.
Protests were held around the world Friday to call attention to labor practices at the retail giant Wal-Mart. Workers in the U.S. and nine other countries rallied at Wal-Mart stores and subsidiaries to denounce the company’s alleged attempts to silence workers seeking to unionize and reform workplace conditions. Aside from the United States, the demonstrations took place in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Canada, Britain, South Africa, Zambia and India.
National advocacy group the Muslim Public Affairs Council held its annual gathering at a California church on Saturday, overcoming threats spurred by a right-wing Christian group. The Institute on Religion and Democracy denounced Pasadena’s All Saints Church after it became the first church to host a U.S. Muslim group’s national convention. Organizers sought the protection of police and private security after the church was flooded with hate mail.