Obama at Navy Yard Memorial: 'We can't accept this'

By Dan Merica CNN | 9/23/2013, 9:47 a.m.
President Barack Obama said Sunday that the United States "can't accept" last week's killing of 12 people at Washington's Navy ...
Neighbors put up a small memorial across the street from the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. on September 18, 2013. Photo by Brian Yaklyvich.

Throughout much of the speech, the president acknowledged a hesitance in Washington to fight over gun laws and, instead, said change would need to come because of the American people's desire for it.

"It may not happen tomorrow, it may not happen next week, it may not happen next month, but it will happen, because it's the change that we need," the president said.

Obama also used the speech to give a glimpse into the life of each of the 12 victims, mentioning everything from Arthur Daniels' love of polishing his white Crown Victoria to John Johnson's last words to his wife: "Good-bye, beautiful. I love you so much."

"Our tears are not enough," he said to the families. "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 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. We're going to have to change."

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray joined Obama on Sunday in calling for tighter gun laws in response to the shooting, telling the audience that "our country is drowning in a sea of guns."

In taking the stage, Obama was stepping into a role he has become very familiar with, counselor-in-chief, and Sunday's remarks were reminiscent, in some ways, of past speeches he has given at memorial services for mass shootings.

Obama, however, is not the first president to play the role of counselor-in-chief.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were praised for the leadership they showed in the aftermath of two domestic disasters -- the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Representatives from the military, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, also spoke at Sunday's event. All honored the fallen by noting that they died in the line of duty, just like those killed in battle.

"These 12 members of our Navy team, our Navy family, were killed in the line of duty, they died in the service to our nation, the service to our Navy, service they were just as committed to as anyone in uniform," an emotional Hilarides said. "For that service, we honor them. For that service, we will never forget them."

CNN's Kristi Keck contributed to this report.

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