President Obama referenced school shootings—focusing especially on the 2012 attacks on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.— as he discussed actions he says will help reduce gun violence Tuesday morning.
Surrounded by advocates for stronger gun laws and those affected by shootings, Obama discussed a list of plans that include closing loopholes on background checks required for firearms purchases, making the background check system more effective, federal research into technology designed to make guns safer, and a proposal to spend $500 million to increase access to mental health care.
In his remarks, Obama acknowledged failed efforts to pass new gun laws through Congress after the Newtown shootings, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
“Every time I think about those kids, it makes me mad,” said Obama, who was introduced by Mark Barden, the father of a boy killed at Sandy Hook. He added that children on the streets of Chicago face gun violence “every day.”
Even before Obama delivered his remarks, key players in the gun debate restated familiar positions.
Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and several GOP presidential candidates criticized the president’s plans as overreaching actions that could infringe on American’s Second Amendment rights.
-- Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 5, 2016
Others have questioned whether specific gun actions would have prevented school shootings and other acts of gun violence, noting that many shooters acquired their guns legally.
“We know that we can’t stop every act of violence,” Obama said, acknowleding that criticism. “But what if we tried to stop even one?”
Obama’s actions won praise from the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by some Newtown families that has pushed for new gun laws:
We are particularly appreciative of the President's focus on mental health and getting people more access to care. Though mental illness rarely leads to violence, we know that people who lack mental wellness and coping skills can become violent towards themselves or others, and as a country we need to be more educated at recognizing the signs of at-risk behaviors and getting people help. We have always stressed that gun violence prevention cannot succeed without a comprehensive solution that goes beyond just firearms, and we are pleased to see the President offer a broad package of actions. This expansive solution, that narrows loopholes on existing gun sales, gives people aid to prevent violence from ever occurring, ensures smart and effective enforcement of existing legislation and considers future solutions to making weapons safer, will achieve its goal of making America safer and saving lives."
Mental health is of particular concern to many Sandy Hook victims’ families. A November 2014 report by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate, which is tasked with reviewing child deaths in the state, detailed how gunman Adam Lanza’s emotional and mental health needs went unmet throughout his childhood.
The White House plan also won praise from teachers’ unions.
“The AFT strongly supports President Obama’s effort to take action against our national epidemic of gun violence—in 2015 alone, there were more than 52,000 incidents of gun violence in the United States,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “Our members—who are entrusted with the safety and care of our communities and our children—see the impact of this violence every day.”
“We look forward to working with the White House and other interested key stakeholders to ensure that we never again have to grieve the loss of children and educators to senseless gun violence,” National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement."It’s going to take all of us to work together to make America safer for our children.”
The Council of Great City Schools strongly supports Obama’s gun actions, Executive Director Michael Casserly said in a statement:
Our public schools, particularly in the nation's Great Cities, remain one of the safest places for our children to be, but the toll that street violence takes on our students is alarming and heart wrenching. Too many students have been gunned down or have seen family members, friends, or classmates killed; too many students miss school because of their apprehension about what will happen walking to and from school; and too many students are unable to concentrate on their academic work out of fear for themselves or grief for others. The price that our young people, particularly our males of color, are paying in our cities for the inaction of adults in reducing gun violence is unbearable. And the nation itself is paying a high cost as it squanders the lives of so much needed talent."
Related reading about the Newtown shootings and school safety:
- A Year Later, Newtown Tragedy Yields Little Policy Change
- Sandy Hook: Words and Actions
- School Stabbings Signal Need for Broad Safety Plans
- School-Violence Tip Lines Get a Second Look After Sandy Hook
- Use of School Shooter Drills Has Increased Significantly Since Newtown Shootings
- Sandy Hook Shooter’s Needs Went Unmet by Schools
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.