Yesterday, President Obama visited Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people—20 of them children ages 6 and 7—were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He met with families of victims and first responders, and then made remarks during an interfaith vigil, where he was "surprisingly assertive" in calling for gun policy changes: "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."
The NY Times reports, "The speech, a blend of grief and resolve that he finished writing on the short Air Force One flight up here, seemed to promise a significant change in direction for a president who has not made gun issues a top priority in four years in office. After each of three other mass killings during his tenure [Tucson, Arizona; Fort Hood, Texas; and Aurora, Colorado], Mr. Obama has renewed calls for legislation without exerting much political capital, but the definitive language on Sunday may make it harder for him not to act this time."
The President said:
We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but 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 from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
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.
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?
The Washington Post's Chris Cilizza noted, "It was a very different Obama who took the stage at the Newtown memorial Sunday, a president not just saddened by the tragedy but fed up with the lack of forward movement in hopes of preventing the next one. His critics will note that he offered no specifics as to where he would hope to change laws on guns and that his speech in Newtown, unlike the address in Aurora, came after his second term was assured and he knew he would never need to stand for election again.
"Both facts are true. But neither subtract from the fact that Obama could have very easily delivered a speech heavy on empathy and light on anything in the way of a call to action. That he chose to go in a very different direction is a telling indication of his commitment to try to make something happen on gun laws."
And two administration officials tell the Wall Street Journal that Obama is "likely to propose gun-policy changes."