WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama halted campaigning on Friday in the wake of yet another American mass shooting, this one in a Colorado movie theatre, saying it was no time for politics as he made a sombre return to the U.S. capital.
"This morning we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways we are united as one American family," Obama said in brief remarks in Fort Myers, Fla., where he'd been scheduled to make a campaign speech aimed at rallying supporters.
He cut short the visit to a key battleground state and instead flew back to Washington, D.C.
"There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection," he said.
At least 12 people died overnight, and as many as 50 were injured, when a gunman opened fire in a movie theatre in suburban Denver at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."
One of the victims, Jessica Ghawi, was an American hockey writer who survived Toronto's recent Eaton Centre shooting.
Obama also vowed that the perpetrator of the "heinous act" would be brought to justice. Authorities have arrested a lone gunman identified as James Holmes, 24, a neuroscience PhD student, in the shootings.
"Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason," the president said.
Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican rival for the White House, released a statement saying that he and his wife, Ann, were "deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence."
In an appearance in New Hampshire, he added: "Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy."
Both men suspended campaigning and also stopped airing negative ads in the state of Colorado.
The bloodshed in a Denver suburb is just the latest mass shooting to play out in the United States, a nation that increasingly reveres its guns no matter how many times such incidents occur.
Even the near-fatal shooting of one-time Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a similar incident in January 2011 has failed to result in tougher gun control laws in the U.S.
Indeed, Gallup polls suggest Americans have grown more resistant to tougher gun-control laws over the past two decades. Many states have loosened their gun laws, allowing citizens to carry loaded firearms in public as the National Rifle Association continues to wield major clout on Capitol Hill.
In Colorado, in fact, people are allowed to have handguns in their cars, businesses and homes.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime gun control advocate, assailed both Obama and Romney in a sharp rebuke on Friday morning.
"You know, soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country," Bloomberg said in an interview with a New York radio station.
"There are so many murders with guns every day — it's just got to stop.
"And instead of the two people — President Obama and Gov. Romney — talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place. OK, tell us how.... No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities. Specifically, what are they going to do about guns?"
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters earlier Friday that Obama is well aware of the need to balance upholding the Second Amendment — which enshrines the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution — with shielding citizens.
"The president believes we need to take common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing laws do not get them," Carney said.
Those opposed to gun control, meantime, fume any time it's brought up in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Friday was no exception.
"If you use the Aurora tragedy to promote gun control, you are despicable," read a typical headline Friday on RedState.com, a conservative website.
As always, the emotionally charged and seamy underside of American politics revealed itself on Friday, with the Drudge Report posting an item suggesting Holmes was a registered Democrat while an ABC reporter suggested he was a Tea Party adherent.
The network later apologized for the suggestion.