On Wednesday, McDonnell's parents were among several families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims who attended Obama's announcement of a slate of measures he said would stem the tide of gun violence.
The appearance of the Newtown families was a potent symbol of support for Obama's initiatives, the most sweeping of which need the approval of a Congress with many members who are lukewarm to those reforms or in outright opposition to them.
But others in the Sandy Hook community who have been swept up in the shooting tragedy were more measured in their response.
"We can't legislate sanity. We can't do that," said George Hochsprung, husband of Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who tried to stop Adam Lanza when he burst into the school on Dec. 14. Dawn Hochsprung was one of the six adults and 20 first-graders who were killed that day.
"I think we're struggling," Hochsprung said. "I think we have to revisit our culture. What are doing for people who are mentally sick? How do we identify them? We're including everyone in the classroom now. We've opened the door to them, not closed the door. Should we close the door now?
"These are very hard questions, and anyone who stands up with very strong views on how to solve them, I would question their views."
Sandy Hook Promise, the advocacy group launched this week that represents many of the victims' families, issued a statement offering support for the breadth of Obama's proposals while stopping short of a full-throated endorsement.
"Sandy Hook Promise welcomes the broad focus of the president's proposals," the group said in a news release. "We appreciate his decisive action to help address through executive order immediate opportunities for reform, and we applaud his broader commitment to finding meaningful common sense solutions to help prevent similar acts of violence in other communities in America.
"As an organization, our purpose is to ensure that we have that dialogue and take action, not just in Washington but in our communities and our homes."
Sandy Hook Promise has indicated it believes that other reforms, such as improvements in mental health care and diagnosis -- and not just changes in the nation's gun laws -- are needed to curb gun violence.
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra attended Obama's news conference and the ceremony at which he signed 23 executive orders. She said she supported his initiatives and endorsed whatever could be done to "prevent another horrific event."
"This is the time to take action," said Llodra, a Republican. "I'm hopeful the community recognizes we have been harmed greatly, and the community understands we need to be asking hard questions. Are there changes we can promote to reduce the ease with which weapons of violence that we were a target of are taken out of the hands of those with flawed judgment? Can we reduce the likelihood in the future of a horrific event by taking action? I know there are no guarantees ... but if we can mitigate them in the future we have an obligation to do so."
Only a night earlier, Robinson presented her proposed $73 million school budget for the 2013-14 school year that would earmark money for security guards. Hundreds of Newtown parents are pushing for a stronger police presence in the schools.
Many Sandy Hook family members have said they are wary of being used for partisan political purpose by any group in the national debate over gun violence. One family, the parents and relatives of 6-year-old victim Noah Pozner, has offered its own proposals, including beefed-up school security and changes in legal liability laws.
Hochsprung advised against overreaching.
"I'm very sad that Dawn died, but I don't think we can stop someone who straps their body with explosives or someone who shoots their way into a building," Hochsprung said. "Rudimentary precautions are one thing, but we can't live in an armed camp."