President Obama promised Sunday evening he would take action in the coming weeks to prevent mass shootings such as the one that took the lives of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut.
The president spoke for nearly 20 minutes at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. He praised the teachers who died trying to protect their students and those who kept their charges out of harm’s way. He comforted the bereaved families of the victims and the stricken community. And he admonished the nation for not doing enough to take care of its children.
The president did not specifically call for new gun-control legislation but signaled he would support an effort pledged by Democratic lawmakers to restrict the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips of ammunition.
“In the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement, mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama said. “Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?
“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” he added in a veiled rebuttal to conservatives who argue unfettered gun rights are necessary to safeguard against government tyranny.
Before his remarks, Obama told Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
Sunday’s prayer vigil was the fourth time in his presidency he has traveled to a community struck by mass violence to console the victims. He met with the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting before attending the vigil.
Some people walked up to two miles in cold rain to attend the vigil.
In blunt terms, Obama told the nation that it has not done enough to protect children from gun violence and said it will need to transform itself.
“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country, to give them the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?” he asked.
“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough,” he added.
The president said he recognized the causes of violence are complex and no law or set of laws can stop all senseless killing in communities across the country. But he said if steps can save even one child or parent or community from tragedy, it would be well worth it.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. To end them we must change,” he said.
The president said he expected political opposition to the course of action he envisions for improving the safety and well-being of children, an indication that he may attempt to move gun-control measures.
“That can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this. If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town,” he said.
Touching on his experience as a father, Obama said he sees raising children, whether one’s own or those of the community as life’s highest purpose. He described the vulnerability he and all parents feel and said caring for the youngest generation is a responsibility held by all.
“We know that we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids you can’t do it by yourself,” he said. “This job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, with the help of a community and the help of a nation,” he said.
In words that one day may become among the most memorable of his presidency, Obama said: “In that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they’re all our children. This is our first task, caring for our children.”
He went on to say that amidst all the uncertainties and regrets of life, people will always know the time they spent loving and caring for children is undoubtedly meaningful.
“A love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger. We know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness, he said. “We don’t go wrong when we do that. That’s what we can be sure of.”
This story was updated at 10:27 a.m.