December 16th, 2012
10:20 PM ET
9 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. Shep

    I'm not a gun owner. I'm not against guns. I am not for the Gov. grabbing more power and control everytime there is a national tragety. Gun owners, secure your guns. I have a 8 and 6 year old. I secure my car keys and teach them not to play with matches. Yes they have knifes and they have to adhere to the knife saftey they have been taught or they lose it. I'm not perfect and yes I make mistakes as a parent and will continue to do so. It's not about the Government making us safe from guns, it's about securing your weapons.

    December 16, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  2. Alan

    My heart is broken along with my fellow countrymen. But I’m haunted by the large number of civilian deaths, including many children, caused by American drone attacks in several countries. I wonder if my fellow Americans have any idea how many little children are killed suddenly in our name by our president and military with these drone attacks. Don’t these parents and grandparents and community mourn as much as we do when their children are killed mercilessly out of nowhere?

    December 16, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  3. Bob Moylan

    I have been working professionally as a teacher (former special education/behavior disorders) and counselor for the past 32 years and this is the worst i have seen. My heart goes out to those affected by this tragedy. The root cause of this problem is the inability of this young man to manage his emotions effectively. Unfortunately, this is a widespread problem and is getting worse. I have written two books on this subject this year. " Emotional Core Therapy for Adolescents" and "Emotional Core Therapy" Both books teach people how to properly love themselves and to identify feelngs of fear and grief (anger is just a reaction to grief) We need as a country to properly teach our youth to respect and love themselves. We need to teach our youth how to self sooth appropriately. This is where our efforts need to be as this addresses the root cause of the problem. Both my books do this effectively and I have had excellent results with both readers and clients teaching them to handle their emotions and gain emotional balance and real confidence in their lives. We need as a country, to learn from this unspeakable tradegy.

    December 16, 2012 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  4. J

    Rather than focus solely on gun control, I really wish we would start discussing the state of mental health treatment in this country. Mist of the people who carried out these recent episodes of mass shootings seemed to have had a mental disorder of some type or another that was either not recognized or was under-treated.

    December 16, 2012 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  5. rick

    I'm watching the multi faith service rigt now, and damn it the young Muslim gentleman is the only one that seems profoundly sincere and sad about this tragedy. He almost broke down and cried for all the grieving families, not just the ones of his own faith.His sermon brought a tear to my eye and I guess I'm going to have to rethink some of my pre conceptions of those who have beliefs so very different than my own. To the citizens of Newtown, you have my deepest condolences and I will pray for every one of you. God Bless you all.

    December 16, 2012 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  6. American Sheeple

    Guns do not fire themselves. Fingers pull triggers. What impels someone to solve problems or settle scores by means of mass murder? How does revenge fantasy become action? There is a high profile template for massacres for the purpose of satiating rage. It is being distributed widely, to a theater near you.

    Hollywood churns out hate. Inglorious Bastards is a Jewish wet dream. Django Unchained is going to be a Christmas licence to kill whoever oppresses you. Weak minds, drug altered minds respond to this validation of a lethal atrocity rite of catharsis. It is the Tinseltown culture of dehumanisation that is the guilty money grubber, not the gun industry or the Machete manufacturer.

    America has a hostile cultural elite that hates Americans. The goal is to upend society. Encouraging crimes by the deranged are simply one of its tools.

    December 16, 2012 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  7. Mark Solomon

    Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world...In 2011, japan's population was 128 million..In 2008, gun-related homicides in Japan totaled: 11. And it could actually have gone lower since then.

    Japan is a democracy. I am sure there are mentally imbalanced people in a nation of 128 million. And young Japanese are exposed to the same violent stimuli as young Americans.

    So what is it people? The facts do not lie...People killing babies is not what the 2nd amendment called for...

    December 16, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  8. Andrew Jefferson

    How about this if your not a law officer you should not be able to carry a gun or own one. I don't care how much of a model citizen you are no guns in the hands of people besides the law.

    December 16, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  9. Pk duster

    Thank god we have a president who cares i was in the army in vietnam i saw what an auto matic weapon can damage and rip your body apart

    December 16, 2012 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  10. Pk duster

    I an a dem but i like what gov mike huckabee said when you take god out of the schools you will get these nuts who will go in sane please no crap from the aclu

    December 16, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  11. Dywlf

    Never miss a photo op. I really detest this guy.

    December 16, 2012 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  12. Namealison

    We have just witnessed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of this great country. Please God let these not be more empty words forgotten and abandoned as they have been in the past. Turn them into meaningful, purposeful actions that move forward toward the goal of protecting our precious families from this ugly violence that pervades the very soul of our society.

    December 16, 2012 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  13. gg

    I agree that something needs to be done.
    Stop going to violent movies.
    Don't buy violent video games.
    Only allow your children to view age-appropriate shows.
    Go to church.

    December 16, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  14. Browne24M

    The Campaigner-in-Chief is doing what he does best, even in the face of this terrible tragedy ... preaching. Now, Mr. President, go back back to Washington and attempt to do what you have miserably failed to do in the past four years ... be a leader!

    December 16, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  15. Maryellen

    Dear God in heaven let there be ban on assault weapons, Mr. President make it happen!

    December 16, 2012 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  16. trex

    .....Thank you NRA and gun NUTZ......for letting us feel like we live in DAMASCUS..................

    December 16, 2012 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  17. Billy

    Plain and Simple => Lack of Gun Control killed those Children. The blame should NOT be on the shooter but the Politicians and Gun Lobby who do not implement strict laws. As long as laws do not change, this will keep on happening. God Bless (Trigger Happy) America!!!

    December 16, 2012 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  18. JS

    Gun control and the increase of mental health awareness and services should go hand-in-hand. One sentence buried in the middle of an article really does not justify this issue.

    December 16, 2012 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  19. nothing new here

    Although I am NOT an advocate of big government –
    I do believe, that it is time, for our country to start re-evaluating priorities.
    We spend billions on busting people for pot.
    We spend billions on other countries, while borrowing from China.
    We spend billions on wars.
    When are we going to start spending the money and time, to start demanding some accountability? There needs to be a greater focus on people helping the mentally ill of this country. And we need to start demanding that parents start acting like parents, and start teaching some responsibility in the home.

    December 16, 2012 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  20. A citizen

    We can be human beings, and reject the NRA.

    December 16, 2012 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  21. Danile6

    The dems will want everyones guns-I worry they do more harm with their pens and word processors--

    December 16, 2012 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  22. Name m c

    It was heart felt until it went political! !

    December 16, 2012 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  23. charles

    watched and prayed all day. looked forward to relaxing, watching game. what a jerk. we need consolation 3 days later. I cam
    nt believe I voted for this camera hound. I feel so much better. NOT!!!!!!

    December 16, 2012 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  24. Justme

    It's sad that we put so much into prayer in the aftermath rather than in our daily lives. I hope there will be room to revisit prayer in our schools. It just makes no sense to outlaw spirituality in the schools and then parade it as our rock of belief following such horiffic events.

    December 16, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  25. Angel

    God bless the children.

    December 16, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
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