PRESIDENT Barack Obama has warned, as he told a nation mourning the Sandy Hook primary school massacre, that America is failing to meet its basic obligation to keep its children safe.
While refraining from promises of specific policy responses, Mr Obama used a speech in Connecticut to urge the US to make the killing of 27 people in Newtown on Friday the last in a string of mass shootings during his presidency.
"These tragedies must end," he told an interfaith vigil. "And to end them we must change". As the president delivered his remarks to a secondary school hall filled with relatives and friends of the 20 young children and seven women who died, sobbing could be heard from the audience.
Conceding that "no single law - no set of laws - can eliminate evil from the world", Mr Obama insisted that this none the less must "not be an excuse for inaction", asking: "Surely we can do better than this?".
Emboldened by his re-election last month, he pledged to use "whatever power this office holds" to prevent further slaughter, hinting that he would weigh into a policy debate frozen over the past decade by reluctance in Washington to alienate the pro-gun lobby.
Yet the president's remarks seemed likely to disappoint those from his Democratic party urging swift and decisive action on new gun control measures, promising only to "engage" with voters and communities "in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this".
While a Democratic Senator pledged on Sunday to introduce a Bill to Congress reinstating a ban on assault weapons such as the rifle used by Adam Lanza, a local 20-year-old, at the school, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives remains opposed to new laws.
Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, demanded that action on gun control - which Mr Obama promised but failed to deliver during his first term in the White House - must now be the "number one" item on his agenda.
In one of the most effective moments of his speech, Mr Obama admonished the country for failing at what he called its "first task" of caring for its children, saying: "It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right".
"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?"
he asked. "I've been reflecting on this the last few days and, if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is 'no'," he said. "We're not doing enough, and we will have to change".
Solemnly reading through the names of each of the 20 six- and seven-year-old children killed by Lanza, Mr Obama faced his audience and said: "For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory".
"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage?" he asked. "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?"
Mr Obama told those watching that the country had an "obligation to try" in order to honour the dozens of victims during his time in office in mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin and now Connecticut.
Before delivering his speech, Mr Obama met grieving families and emergency service officials, spending so much time with them as to delay the start of the service by about an hour.
While the White House declined to release information about his meetings, some details seeped out via Twitter. One picture posted online showed Mr Obama cradling a granddaughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the school's late principal, who died trying to stop the gunman's rampage.
"My mom would be SO proud to see President Obama holding her granddaughter," Cristina Hassinger, Mrs Hochsprung's daughter, wrote. " But not as proud as I am of her." The president repeatedly praised Newtown, a prosperous community of some 27,000 people an hour's drive away from New York City, for its quiet dignity "in the face of indescribable violence".
"In the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other, and you've cared for one another, and you've loved one another," he said. "This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and with God's grace, that love will see you through".
By Jon Swaine and Raf Sanchez Telegraph.co.uk