Obama’s initiative comes a month after the massacre of 26 schoolchildren and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a tragedy that shocked the nation in a way that other mass shootings have not. Included in the audience were victims’ families. On stage with the president were four children who had written him letters after the Newtown massacre.
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe,” Obama said. “This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.”
Obama faced criticism for appearing to use children as props in his effort to enact controversial legislation. But that was the point: The fact that so many children – 20 first-graders – were killed in Newtown touched Obama like nothing else in his presidency, he has said himself, and he has made gun control a top priority as he starts his second term.
“In the days ahead I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make [new gun laws] a reality,” Obama said, “because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try.”
A new ban on assault weapons may be the hardest to enact. An earlier ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, but expired amid opposition by members of Congress from both parties and by the gun lobby. Gun rights activists have said the law was ineffective, as gun manufacturers easily found ways around it. Ditto the accompanying ban on high-capacity magazines, those that contain more than 10 rounds. But pro-gun forces still oppose such measures, saying they represent the start of a “slippery slope” toward more restrictive measures on gun ownership.