December 16th, 2012
10:20 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama's Newtown speech: a nation's grief, a father's sympathy

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.

SEE MORE: Click here for the full transcript of Obama's speech

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.

Filed under: Connecticut • Gun rights • President Obama
soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. BG 23

    The 2nd amendment needs to evolve ! The right to bear arms wasn't written with the intent to allow everyone to feel free to carry semi auto rifles or semi auto pistols for that matter ! Everyone needs to wake up and make common sense adjustments to rights written hundreds of years ago! You want to protect your home then own a security system a German Shepard and a shotgun. Nobody needs semi auto guns of any type. Wake up America !!!!

    December 16, 2012 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  2. Toshirea Jackson

    A pencil doesn't write one it's own .Nor does a gun fire in it's own .

    December 16, 2012 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  3. Michael1919

    I fail to understand why people ask themselves "Why?" when the American society has created for itself an environment where mass shootings can happen. America can talk all it wants about adolescents being exposed and immune to violence, or about not giving proper attention to mental health (of which they should talk about regardless), but until Americans realize the necessity for gun control, unfortunately, these events will be repeated. This young man had no criminal background, neither did the killer at Aurora or the killers at Columbine. You can do all the background checks you want, that won't solve the problem. There are troubled people in other countries as well, they just don't give people easy access to guns!

    December 16, 2012 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  4. CBR

    Our country is not protecting our children. We are not helping families to receive the help they need when a child is mentally challenged. Every day children are killed or wounded. We do need to do everything in our power to keep our children safe. We may need some new laws to do so but our children are our future. Those children who were killed had so much to give and because we cannot come together to enact legislation about guns and ammo and we do not have the resources to help those who are mentally challenged. We can only hope that we will rise up to the challenge as a legacy to those who were murdered last Friday.

    December 16, 2012 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  5. Louise Hart

    Guns are used for no other purpose than to kill

    Lers outlaw them in every situation from police, security and hunting. They have no place in a democratic society

    A referendum should be held .

    December 16, 2012 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  6. Nelly Otero

    The theme of the gun laws and what controls should be taken or what laws should be ammended are like the case of an intersection with 4 stop signs; no one wants to stop and there have been so many accidents and deaths until someone who unfortunatly has a family memer killed at the intersection begins to fight with the city to have traffic lights installed. The years go by, more accidents and more deaths and then the realize : we really do need to consider putting up the traffic lights. Why do serious issues that affect lives have to be put on hold until things just reach the point where so many innocent lives have been lost and so many familes today suffer all because action on gun controls were not given more priority. My condolenses to all who have been affected.

    December 16, 2012 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  7. Name

    I do not usually as a rule listen to speeches Obama makes on TV. However tonight I made an exception and I thought his speechl was very good

    December 17, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  8. Dr. Disaster

    With millions of gun around it's hard to imagine that America can be made more secure by stricter laws. So if Obama want's to really change things he best issues an addendum to the constitution (or weapon laws, dunno exactly where) which adds the duty to actually wear an owned gun all the time to the right to own/wear a gun. Who wants to have one has to wear it and if you don't .. well .. you know what happens when you break the law.

    December 17, 2012 03:52 am at 3:52 am |
  9. Marry

    President Obama is a true leader, compassionate, bright, strong, and classy! Comforting those in pain and asking the nation to help him end this violence. WE have to work hard and support change! Thank you Mr. President.

    December 17, 2012 04:21 am at 4:21 am |
  10. Marie MD

    You could tell that the President's speech was heartfelt. You could hear the cries of the people in the room and I still don't know how he had the strength to finish reading the names of all those babies.
    What a horrible tragedy not just for CT but the country.

    December 17, 2012 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  11. Name jimi

    Very sad.Irrespective of political affiliations,Americans need to accept that their Gun culture needs to be thoroughly controlled.Afterall it's their society and such violent Gun crimes affects everyone can't see why anyone would still think owning a Gun so easily is the solution to curb such horrible acts.

    December 17, 2012 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
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