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. Facts don't Lie

    we all need to put our arms around each other even in spirit in such a time like this and the president is doing what he can to offer comfort. I had to admit though I found troubling in an earlier post that was cut off some people claiming the president should stay away and is only doing this for a "photo op". To those sorry bitter angry people I say please get a real life and put your Obama-hate aside for at least the time being and be respectful. President Obama has a wife and two daughters and I am sure on a Sunday evening if he indeed wanted a "photo op" he would prefer doing it with them and not having to do part of his job which includes being "comforter in chief". The president has gone to the site of every mass shooting thus far I believe and this should be no different and if he would have chosen not to go these same haters would complain then as well.

    December 16, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  2. OBAMACARE is here to stay ladies and gentlemen

    God bless America

    December 16, 2012 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    Gun-control law is very desperate in here. Period. Ignore NRA idiots.

    December 16, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  4. Christopher Phelan

    The President should call on Homeland Security to address the security needs of public places, particularly schools. Clearly, schools are "unsecured" from the potential for violence. The debate on gun control will rage and maybe some day something will be done. In the meantime children will die. So we must immediatly take action to stop this violence by redirecting our security forces in such a manner as to prevent deranged individuals from attacking our schools. We have done this for our airports, so now it is time to direct a small portion of our vast defence capability toward the protection of the most defenseless and precious members of our society, the children.

    December 16, 2012 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  5. kirk

    Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive."
    –Noah Webster,

    December 16, 2012 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  6. theINDEPENDENTone

    The Liberal Left's 40 year march FORWARD leads us to ... THIS.

    Welcome to the OBAMAnation.

    December 16, 2012 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  7. ted

    We as a nation need to do constructive things with respect to guns and gun controls. I am in favor of the second amendment, but I am not in favor of ordinary citizens having assault rifles or pistols with high capacity magazines. Those types of weapons belong only in the military and law enforcement. I am not against the hunter or the trap shooter or the gun enthusiast so long as they maintain sensible handling of their guns. But I am against criminals and nut cases and gangs and militias having guns and that is where effective law enforcement comes in to interdict at borders and ports to help slow the incoming weapons. I do not believe Washington needs to pass another unenforceable watered down law that only the law abiding will obey. We need more law enforcement on the streets doing the jobs they are paid to do. I personnally do not have a gun, but my neighbors do. Further the politicians need to stop kissing Wayne Lapierres ring since he runs the NRA. Lapierre and Grover Norquist are special interests that think they can make politicians do what they want them to do. The madness needs to stop. NOW>

    December 16, 2012 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  8. Steven Plank

    Yes the Sandy Hook shootings demands a swift and strong response from President Obama and Washington law makers.
    A child's right to attend school without the risk of getting shot out weighs every adult's right to own or carry assault rifles or automatic weapons – these need to be permanently banned as a starting point to a legacy to the 20 beautiful children and their 6 brave teachers who lost their lives on Friday. No excuses or dithering this time!

    December 16, 2012 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  9. dave

    This is precisely the wrong time to act. With such heightened emotions it is far too easy to do the wrong thing.

    December 16, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  10. dubrats

    focus on a parent who had those types of weapons in a home where a troubled family member lived and had access to said weapons....then lets talk about gun control.....

    December 16, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  11. Dan

    It's all an act. He wants gun control, so he will act it up to get sympathy. The school was a "Gun Free" zone, the guns used obtained illegally. On the same day a man in China STABBED 20 kids at an elementary school. This is not about guns. Gun bans are not the solution.

    December 16, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  12. Eric the viking

    I think itroducing new gun laws will be a challenge. I agree with some of the thing proposed in this article. However, as a starting point, there should be armed guards at schools. I know this will be expensive, but the lives of children are more valuable than money will ever be in this country.

    December 16, 2012 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  13. Carl Sandburg

    I hesitatte to identify myself as a conxervative who supports the 2nd amendment, for fear that many readers will stop reading and go into attack mode. Left=intelligent and right, and Right = callous and stupid.

    Here is what I think. Given the 2nd amendment, banning guns is problematic. Controlling the flow of military weapons and ammunition ought to be acceptable. More importantly, accessibility of weapons and the relative ease of amassing an arsenal must be part of the discussion. With this comes rules for securing all firearms and the ammo that accompanies them.

    Sane people do not commit these atrocities, but no one can deny that having a gun available increases the chance that tragedy will follow when an otherwise rational person is beset by great trauma, or when a sick individual can manifest mayhem because he or she can assume that gaining access to a firearm is relatively easy.

    This mother should not have been able to buy these guns legally without disclosing the mental difficulties that her son experienced. She should have been denied approval, or she should have been accountable for verifying the security of the weapons. I haven't tried to figure out how to do this, but we certainly have technological ingenuity that could address the complications.

    December 16, 2012 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  14. ADZ

    Guns need more regulation. You don't need to ban them, just freakin' regulate them! What's the big deal? If you're a responsible gun owner, then you've got nothing to be concerned about. If you want a damn machine gun, whatever, but you should NOT complain or be surprised when it's not as easy to get as freakin' candy. If you need an assault weapon to feel secure in your home, maybe you shouldn't have one.

    December 16, 2012 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  15. Nice

    Shall not be infringed.

    December 16, 2012 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  16. ryan

    life as in dreams ` nothing appears as it seems,
    i think its time folks for u2 put away the cell phones & video games & facebook stuff & spend some time with your children, U never know when it will be the last time u see or spend some time with them,
    start cheerishing the time u have with them, life is short
    forget about the crap about guns & schools & what the goverment can or wont do 4u, this should be a wake up cal about getting rid of all the un-nessseary crap in your life and cheerish your kids,
    take care 🙂

    December 16, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  17. abmri60

    A President is for the people.
    Thank you Mr President for being with the people of Newtown.

    December 16, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  18. John Stefanyszyn

    20 children and 6 women have been murdered...and the President participates in an "interfaith" vigil. which "gods of different faiths" did he and the people pray?

    To the "gods" that the belief in religious liberty gives equal validity?

    To the "god of fortresses" that says that each is free to worship the "god/religion"
    of one's justification for one's interest?

    But there is Only One Creator whose identity, whose name, is clearly defined by Christ...not as a religion but the One True Way of SERVE the Will of the One Creator and to serve the other as per thr the Will of the Father.

    Man says that his way is "right" and that the One Way of the One and Only God is not right.

    But it is Christ that will rule...with the Ine True Will of the Creator...and there will be no self-rights and there will be no murders of children and women.

    December 16, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  19. Bamaurec

    Reasonable gun control laws can be constructed if we drop the incessant political lines that seem to drawn over this issue. This is tandem with better early intervention (and resources) and recognition of mental health issues confronting our population will very likely drop the death march at least to some improved degree.

    December 16, 2012 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  20. Chipster

    There is no comment that can adequately convey the sorrow over such senseless and devastating loss and heartache.

    December 16, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  21. jim

    Yeah, he cares so much that his administration let 2000 assault rifles go to mexican drug gangs. But we'd better keep law-abiding US citizens from owning them. Nice moral high ground.

    December 16, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  22. clarke

    I looked at the faces of all those sweet innocence children, just breaks my heart as a parent, as a grandparent. I am so sorry for everyones loss. The adults who also someone child, wife, mother Aunt, Sister, friend. May you all rest in peace, I pray for everyone who has lost and pray you will find the strength to smile again one day.

    December 16, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  23. Kathleen

    Your president is one of a kind, I wish with all my heart that I had a priminister as human as he is. He cherishes you people so much. He adores the children of United States, his face is grief stricken with sadness.
    I am thinking of you all America, I am sorry this happened to one of yours.
    God bless America and its people.

    December 16, 2012 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  24. deb

    "Others are advocating more attention to mental-health needs."

    ....this may be an alternative to gun control BUT–any federal assistance given towards mental-health issues would also fall under the guise of an entitlement issue-who will pay for it? Many in this country already fight against entitlements that help the poor, physically ill, retired, etc. And now you are going to ask them to support the mentally ill? Good luck with that one–and good luck with getting them to give up their assault weapons!!

    December 16, 2012 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  25. mrl

    the liberals will try to use this to force gun control... this morning they caught another kid planning to bring bombs to another school.... Yep... gun control is really the answer..... So glad the liberals want to use this disaster for political gain though... shows how dispicable they are...

    December 16, 2012 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
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