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. anon

    Guess what. Obama has overseen the murder of over 5000 women and children with drone strikes. If Obama goes after guns I hope you enjoy a new Civil War, because that's what's going to happen. Obama with the fake wipe his eye emotional lying act, using kids to go after guns, SAW THAT COMING. Usurping power just as Hitler did when he burned the Reichstag and blamed it on another.

    December 16, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  2. A citizen

    The NRA is killing our country.

    December 16, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  3. Ray

    Ban the weapons instead of reading off a script, I can't remember a president that every time he opens his mouth nothing meaningful comes out, the guy is not influential at all. We need someone to get tough in this country enough of the bs!

    December 16, 2012 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  4. allenwoll

    .
    Gun advoctes and owners tout guns as a solution to certain of the risks of life. . Perhaps true, perhaps not true. . If so, then in compensation, they should be required to shoulder some NEW risks designed to help protect everyone else - those who choose NOT to follow the course of gun ownership.
    .
    I propose that now REAL, very, VERY substantive risks be legally tightly attached gun ownership. . For example, once you own a weapon, you are to be held forever responsible - financially AND criminally - for that weapon unitl it is destroyed. . Theft or sale or transfer of your weapon cannot absolve you : Only its complete and total documented official physical destruction should be allowed to part the tie. .
    .
    The same sort of provisions should tie the original manufacturer and the seller to financial AND criminal responsibility and liability : They will then surely NOT be interested in providing weapons to "just anyone off the street" ! ! ! .
    .
    I do NOT expect an enthusiastic response from gun owners - just pointless indignation ! ! !

    December 16, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  5. ProtectOurChildrenatschoolARMTHETEACHERS!

    I think our American Schools are targets to the criminal insane as easy targets.. I think Teachers need to be armed to protect our children at school. Or at least Full time Police officers stationed one per school at least.. I would feel alot safer knowing that my daughters teacher is trained to protect the children she teachers.. If not i am thinking about Taking my Children out of PUBLIC SCHOOL and home schooling them... At least at home i know i can protect my Children from all Enemy's Foreign or Domestic.

    December 16, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  6. rosie

    why did we have to listen to Obama make a non-essential news breaker speech in the middle of anNFL game where children are watching TV. We need to shelter our kids from attrocities like this so they are notSCARED to goto school. Oh, yes, he did jnot say that metal detectors would be insgtalled at every school in the nation – NOT. What kind of a president is this?He is NOT a movie star. He needs to get over himself

    December 16, 2012 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  7. James Jones

    Trust Obama to make this tragedy, prompted by a maniac, a political issue

    December 16, 2012 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  8. robert

    It seems to be lost on the NRA that the shooter's mother did exactly what they wanted her to do. She bought guns, lots of guns, and taught her children how to use them in order to protect her family. But it was those guns and the son she taught how to shoot that killed her, and 24 others. This woman is a model for how the NRA thinks we should protect our families. Unfortunately, it seems to be a way to destroy families too.

    December 16, 2012 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  9. BeverlyNC

    It is time to actually do something. The first steps are actual and valid background checks at any point of sale of a firearm from a gun store to especially at gun shows. The next step is to legislatively ban assault weapons and large magazines. NO ONE beyond the police or the military needs access to any weapon of that level of mass destruction. We have amended the Constitution before when it became obsolete – like naming African Americans only a part of a person. That is what amendments are for. Owing firearms was for a different time, a different century, and for very different reasons. We need new laws reflecting today's society, our increasing problem with gun violence, and the fact most of the victims are children or women.

    December 16, 2012 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  10. Lauri

    Parents look in the mirror, if you have left your 8-18 year olds play violent video games which reward for rapid shooting and killing perhaps desensitizing them to human life.
    Filmmakers, producers, if you have exploited the interest in violence in film and cash in on this demand.
    Media, consider how you draw attention to these monsters.
    Politicians and communities who do not understand that you can't keep cutting mental health services.
    All those who look the other way.
    Citizens who fight for possession of assault weapons.
    All Americans who have lost interest in caring for one another and would rather cling to divisiveness....this country has to change.

    December 16, 2012 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  11. Gail Alling

    To Obama -If you want to be a leader, YOU MUST STAND UP AGAINST THE GUN LOBBY. The people of this country will back you and will raise the money that it takes to make the gun lobby and all its power obsolete. What does the rest of the world think of us? How can we talk of peace and behave in such a violent fashion? You are right, we are not doing enough to protect our children or the rest of our citizens. Is it not written in the Constitution that all citizens of this country have a right to security. Do we have to go around worrying about the person next to us in line and the gun in his pocket? PLEASE DO SOMETHING. ENOUGH POLITICS and sophist arguments about the freedom to tote guns. PLEASE SEND THIS TO THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE.

    December 16, 2012 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  12. RickFromTexas

    The larger issue here is mental illness, not just gun control. People like this kid Lanza would have been institutionalized 25 years ago, but we in our shortsightedness, have closed all of the institutions.

    Point is, if the government can't do something about one of these two issues, we get what we've got, mass murders in public places. This is the tipping point, the sad day when it becomes all too clear that we are tragically reaping our own shortsightedness.

    December 16, 2012 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  13. chris

    I would propose the Sandy Hook Bill Item 1) Ban on Possession , Sale or use of ASSAULT Type weapons ( only the military should have these weapons . Item 2) Register all handguns and provide a mandatory will that in your death or incapacitation the firearm shall be destroyed . Item 3 ) Gun manufactures, owners and companies and organizations can be held civil and criminally liable for damages,costs, counseling,medical and funeral costs for damage done by their product ( drug companies deal with this all the time ). Item 4) Psychological evalution and background checks for all new owners of guns and current owners have 5 years to comply . Bring this to the president and have him sign it .

    December 16, 2012 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  14. chris

    I would propose the Sandy Hook Bill Item 1) Ban on Possession , Sale or use of ASSAULT Type weapons ( only the military should have these weapons . Item 2) Register all handguns and provide a mandatory will that in your death the firearm shall be destroyed . Item 3 ) Gun manufactures, owners and companies and organizations can be held civil and criminally liable for damages,costs, counseling,medical and funeral costs for damage done by their product ( drug companies deal with this all the time ). Item 4) Psychological evaluation and background checks for all new owners of guns and current owners have 5 years to comply .

    December 16, 2012 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  15. Greenspam

    Today, Republicans accuse President Obama of playing politics and promoting socialism by claiming that it's government role to do more to protect our children. They claim that it's up to individuals and capitalism to decide how best to protect our children.

    December 16, 2012 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  16. god fearing

    I did'nt vote for him but for him to have the balls to say god and jesus in the same ten minutes of a speech is more than enough to have regained my faith in this country.

    December 16, 2012 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    The nation’s spirit has been awaken by this terrible event. Yes! This event requires a response unlike any since our founding fathers. The response needs to shake our individual consciences and the nation’s collective conscience. We as a civil society cannot allow the blood of our children to saturate the soil and rivers of our great nation. The spirit of those who have gone on before us and left us this beautiful nation is crying for those of us who live to awaken from our drunken dance with assault weapons. Their cry has echoed across America seven times this year, the hour is getting late. Awaken America and save the future generation from extermination at their hands and not the hands of some outside enemy.

    December 16, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  18. frank

    the messiah Obama will keep us safe!!!!! the government will step in and prevent this (of course they did nothing after VA tech, Colorado, Columbine, etc....) because they can't and they should NOT...it is COMMUNITY,COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY
    he should have NOT spoken tonight...campaign is OVER...a disgrace

    December 16, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  19. SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    How about we don't just choose 1 thing to 'fix' or 'improve' – how about we accept that we need to do all of the above and that 1 thing is not the answer as is true with pretty much everything in life and escpecially violence – who perpetrates it – what the root causes are – what enables it...answer those questions and you'll find multiple answers – multiple causes require multiple solutions. Seems like we all know that, so why are we still just arguing over 1 thing?

    December 16, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  20. herbert

    i see no need for assault type weapons I have a 9mm I bought and registered and on occasions when I wanted the experience to try assault rifles I rented it at the gun range and tried it the cost was under $10 but the ammo was not cheap but that was all I needed if I wanted to try new weapons I would just rent it at the gun range other than that I don't see the big need to purchase them.

    December 16, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  21. Al

    Mr. Obama speech was good, up to the point where he turned into a guy that practices what he's been thought threw the years of being in Washington that you never let an opportunity go unchallenged. He was there to comfort the families, and he had my ear, until he turned into the let's take away the peoples right to own a weapon, and not an automatic weapon, for those should not be in the hands of anyone unless you're defending the country, not some stupid block.

    What happened on Friday has no words to describe other than a senseless act, by a mental person, who should have been in an institution, by all accounts of what he did. Those people did nothing to cause that violent act, those children are innocent and did nothing to deserve what this mental case monster did. Perhaps the movie one flew over the cuckoo's nest is not so far fetch that a monster like this would be a good candidate for a rubber room.

    To the families there is nothing I or anyone can say that will make the pain go away, I wish there was, no one should ever have to endure what has been thrown at you, your family and your community. And as a parent I wish no harm ever on any young child, and no one should either. I wish I could offer more, but my heart goes out to Sandy Hook and the towns near by that will also be affected. May GOD bless you and comfort you and guide you.

    December 16, 2012 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  22. victor

    Thank you for taking a stand Mr President.
    A mother has semi automatic weapons thinking she is going to protect herself. Killed by what she had in her home. Her son may have stilled killed her but wouldn't have killed those children.

    December 16, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  23. larry5

    What happened is unspeakable. If I lost my child like that I just don't know if I could contain my rage. And I certainly would not want to share my grief with anyone outside my family. I just hope the media, the public and the politicians give these people plenty of room. I hope that those that want their privacy are left alone to grieve on their own terms.

    December 16, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  24. Bee Gee

    Just listened to the President. He loves this country. He loves America. And to all the people attacking him be it for his birth certificate, his faith, or his commitment to the American people – back off. You should be ashamed.
    A debate about gun policy, a simple conversation, is what the Constitution protects and that's a great thing. God bless America

    December 16, 2012 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  25. Phil

    Teachers and school workers should be given a defensive firearms course aimed at protecting their students. Those who volunteer should be allowed to keep a loaded pistol with them. Another option would be to hire retired police officers as teachers.

    December 16, 2012 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
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