For nearly an entire term in the White House, Obama’s record on guns was a picture of caution. Perhaps moved by false fears that the gun lobby could scuttle his presidency, or perhaps simply boxed into inaction by the fact that there were simply too many other battles to fight these past four years, President Obama did nothing to hold back the rising tide of gun violence in the nation he leads. After nearly four years as president, Obama’s most significant guns legislation is a law he signed allowing loaded guns in national parks.
Perhaps for this reason, the president appeared genuinely remorseful in his remarks to the community that lost so many of its children on Friday. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no.”
In his immediate reaction to the tragedy two days ago, Obama told the nation that “each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent.” Tonight, the most powerful man in the world appeared like he was finally ready to react as a president:
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. 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?
It remains to be seen exactly what steps the president will take to stop future tragedies from occurring, as it remains to be seen just how hard conservatives in Congress will fight to preserve the conditions that led to Friday’s awful events. But a president typically does not start speaking about invoking his powers of office, or hint that political struggle is coming, or suggest that his own history of inaction was tragically mistaken, if he intends to do nothing in the face of an epidemic of murder. This is the kind of speech that suggests a major change in administration policy is on the horizon.