Newtown, Connecticut (CNN) – President Barack Obama turned the nation's attention to America's children Sunday night when he addressed families in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of last week's fatal school shooting.
"This is our first task, caring for our children. 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," Obama said. "Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? ... 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."
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The president also vowed to use his office to prevent such heinous acts in the future.
"In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine," Obama said.
He sounded a similar note in remarks to the nation in the hours after the shooting, although he did not indicate what that action might be.
"As a country we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics," Obama said Friday.
It's clear many in his party view this as a tipping point.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California announced plans to reintroduce an assault-weapons ban – a measure the president has repeatedly vowed to back but never pursued. New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed by gun violence, wrote the president Sunday, calling on him to use his executive power to improve the background check system used for gun buyers.
And many others are calling for new measures to place stricter limits on sales of large-capacity magazines and online ammunition; close loopholes that allow unrestricted sales of many firearms at gun shows; increase waiting periods and limit the accessibility of guns in school zones.
Administration officials said the president put a lot of thought into the remarks, which he's largely wrote himself with help from speechwriter Cody Keenan. Those who know the president well said the shooting affected him deeply as a father; they said he's been as moved by this event as much as any in his political life.
His role was to express the nation's grief; part of every president's responsibility is to help Americans mourn in the wake of inexplicable tragedy. It was also a leadership opportunity: the more effectively he captures the nation's emotions, the greater his platform to advocate a policy response.
Others are advocating more attention to mental-health needs.
Already the president has shown this tragedy has moved him to an unusual degree. He displayed more raw emotion in his remarks after the shooting than in any public event since taking office. A leader who has struggled to convey warmth in office instead struggled to retain his composure while addressing the nation's grief over the shooting.
The president's remarks in Newtown marked the fourth time he's consoled the nation from a grieving community – the first three coming after shootings at Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Aurora, Colorado, events he mentioned in his speech.
Despite the outcry following those events, polling indicates public opinion about gun laws and gun rights remains largely unchanged in the wake of those crises. Since 1993, American opinion has shifted in favor of fewer gun laws; but those views tend to change slowly over time.