In his eloquence, the president’s grief and anger was palpable last night when he spoke in Newtown. He told the parents and community of the 20 children and six adults who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School that the nation he leads “will have to change.”
But the question remains: How much is he willing to risk to make that change happen?
By sheer volume, the mass shootings that have occurred during his first term force him to take some type of action at this point. Just like a spate of violence in a city moves the media and citizenry to scream out for the mayor to do something, these tragedies in his country now beg for the nation’s leader to make moves.
As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, these speeches of Obama’s have become so frequent that they have taken on a pattern.
“The president often begins with a quote from the Bible. He notes his personal, emotional reaction to the tragedy — often speaking as a parent. He names and honors the dead and tells a hopeful story, often of a survivor,” the Times wrote.
The president also met with family members and spoke after the 2009 serial killings at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 service members; the 2010 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the July shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 people dead.
Many pundits have asked whether the President Obama is willing to expend the political capital to get some type of gun control legislation through Congress, particularly with the current fiscal cliff standoff and another debt ceiling fight looming on the horizon. But at this point, with the entire nation in the throes of grief over the murder of 20 children, it may be more politically dangerous for him not to take action right now. After all, if gun control legislation is introduced, as California Senator Dianne Feinstein has promised that she will do this week, and Obama gets firmly behind it, the lawmakers who publicly oppose him will appear to be standing in defense of child killers. That is the way the politics would play out at the moment. Perhaps over time, the public’s interest in seeing action will die down and America will settle back into its love affair with guns. But right now, as the images of the funerals with the tiny caskets start becoming seared into the American conscience, Obama and Democrats just might have enough political cover to get something through. If not something radical, perhaps at least the federal ban on assault weapons passed during the Clinton administration in 1994 but allowed to expire during the Bush administration in 2004.
During his speech, Obama laid responsibility for these tragedies at the feet of every American, by pointing out that each of us bears responsibility for every child.
“We come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children,” he said. “This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”
“And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?” he continued. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”
Speaking from that stage in Newtown High School, Obama declared Sunday he will use “whatever power” he has to prevent future shooting.
“What choice do we have?” Obama said. “We can’t accept events like this as routine. 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 year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
He promised in the coming weeks to talk with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators on an effort to prevent mass shootings.
Police say 20-year-old Adam Lanza was carrying enough ammunition to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time. Authorities said he shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near. Before he got to the school, he killed his mother in her bed, wearing her pajamas, with four shots to her head with her 22-caliber rifle.
“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true,” the president said. “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”