By Justin Sink - 03/28/13 10:00 PM EDT
President Obama made an emotional plea for Congress to pass gun-control legislation, telling the political world “shame on us” if it has forgotten the 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School less than 100 days ago.
“Shame on us if we've forgotten,” Obama said Thursday at a White House event where he was flanked by more than a dozen mothers whose children were the victims of gun violence.
The president paused for effect several times in his remarks, stating: “I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten.”
“Tears aren't enough. Expressions of sympathy aren't enough. Speeches aren't enough,” Obama said.
“We've cried enough. We've known enough heartbreak. What we're proposing isn't radical. It isn't taking anybody's gun rights. It's something that, if we are serious, we will do.”
The audience in the White House’s East Room included families of three of the 20 children killed in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that led to a new push on Capitol Hill for gun control legislation.
The mother of a Chicago girl killed walking to school just days after performing at the president's inauguration was also in the crowd. The pain was evident on the faces of many of those in attendance, with those on stage and in the audience openly weeping.
The president is looking to build momentum for a package of new gun control measures to be considered by the Senate early next month.
The legislation would expand background checks on firearm purchases, create new penalties on straw purchases and include new funding for school security.
The bill will not include other aspects of the plan introduced by the president in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, including the renewal of an assault weapons ban or limits on magazine capacity — although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pledged to allow a vote on those provisions as an amendment.
Republicans on Capitol Hill appeared largely unmoved by the appeal.
“The proposals the president is calling for Congress to pass would primarily serve to reduce the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens while having little or no effect on violent crime,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said.
Lee and two other senators have threatened to filibuster any gun control legislation that threatens the Second Amendment. Their effort was boosted Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who joined an effort spearheaded by Lee and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
“We should look for ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill prone to misusing them, but I oppose legislation that will be used as a vehicle to impose new Second Amendment restrictions on responsible, law-abiding gun owners,” Rubio said.
“We should work to reduce tragic acts of violence by addressing violence at its source, including untreated mental illness, the lack of adequate information-sharing on mental health issues, and the breakdown of the family.”
In his remarks Thursday, Obama stressed that polling showed strong support for many provisions of the Senate bill, even among Republicans and gun owners.
“If you think that checking someone’s criminal record before he can check out at a gun show is common sense, make yourself heard,” Obama said. “If they're not part of that 90 percent that agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or someone with a severe mental illness to get a gun, you should ask them why not.”
But polling also indicates that support for new gun controls is weakening. A survey from CBS News released Thursday showed 47 percent of people in the United States believe gun control laws should be stricter, down 10 points from the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting.
Some Senate Democrats have also expressed hesitation about new gun controls, making the prospects for legislation uncertain.
On Thursday, Obama urged those watching to "make themselves heard right now" and continue exerting political pressure.
"We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and to make sure what we said wasn't just a bunch of platitudes," Obama said.
The White House said earlier in the week that the president would advocate on behalf of his gun plans in a series of public events in coming weeks, including a visit on Wednesday to Denver.
Obama is being aided in his push by Organizing for Action, the political organization birthed from his reelection campaign. The group was hosting more than 100 events across the country on Thursday to support gun control efforts.
In Washington, Obama signaled a willingness to take on the gun lobby over the Senate legislation. He warned opponents were attempting to “run out the clock,” hoping that memories of the mass shooting would fade.
“They're doing everything they can to make all our progress under the weight of fear and frustration,” Obama said.
Later Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged that some Democrats in the Senate might be among the group Obama admonished to not "get squishy because time has passed and it's not on the news every single day."
"I'm confident the president will be speaking to both Democrats and Republicans about support for these proposals," Earnest said.
The deputy press secretary said Obama would likely lobby Republican senators on gun control when he sits down for a dinner with them on April 10.
"This is something that is a legislative priority of the president," Earnest said. "I'm confident it will come up in the dinner."
—This story was posted 12:32 p.m. and updated at 6:00 p.m.