President Obama Calls for Action on Gun Laws, Republicans React

Obama says U.S. must do more to protect its youngest citizens.

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President Barack Obama gave gun control advocates reason to believe the most recent gun massacre in Newtown, Conn., would serve as an impetus for new reforms, delivering a somber, but purposeful speech during an interfaith vigil on Sunday night.

The first task of society is to care for its children, he said.

"If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right; that's how, as a society, we will be judged," Obama said. "And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children – all of them – safe from harm?"

His questions echo those being asked by politicians across the political spectrum in the days following Friday's deadly shooting that left 28 dead, including 20 children aged 6 and 7.

[PHOTOS: Slaughter at Connecticut Elementary School]

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia pro-gun Democrat with a top rating from the National Rifle Association, said the devastating event has "changed things. It's changed America."

"It's common sense. It's time to move beyond rhetoric," he said Monday on "Morning Joe,"MSNBC's morning program.

"We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way. I want to call all our friends in the NRA, sit down and have this discussion."

The show's host, former Rep. Joe Scarborough, a Republican who also had an "A" rating from the NRA during his time in Congress in the mid-1990s, also voiced a change of heart in support of legislative action.

[RELATED: Students Nervously Return to School After Shooting]

"Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo, they must be instead forced to defend our children," he said, casting blame on violent video games and movies, deficient mental health services, as well as ubiquitous access to "combat-grade" weapons.

"It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our school yards than putting together their next fundraiser," Scarborough said.

Other pro-gun politicians and groups like the NRA have remained silent – NBC's "Meet the Press" said it invited all 31 NRA top-rated senators to defend their position but all declined and the powerful pro-gun group itself has been silent in the face of criticism.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, served as one of the lone voices publicly resisting calls for gun reforms.

"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," said Gohmert, referring to the school's principal, on Fox News Sunday. "Once you start drawing the line, where do you stop? That's why it is important to not just look at this emotionally."

[READ: Obama Returns to Role of Comforter in Chief]

Gun reforms, even those with wide public appeal, will have a difficult time becoming reality, though, despite the current clamoring, experts say, pointing to the Republican-controlled House as likely to resist new policies., Daniel Webster, director, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said electoral losses following Democratic-led passage of a since-lapsed assault weapons ban has also contributed to political intransigence on the issue.

"Clinton [administration] folks like to say the reason for that backlash was these gun control measures that were implemented," he said. "It became conventional wisdom so to speak. 'Let's don't do that again, that just hurt us politically.'"

But Obama said he will continue to press for it from his bully pulpit.

"In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine," he said. "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 years is somehow the price of our freedom?"