WASHINGTON – President Obama, so often cool and unemotional, struggled to maintain his composure Friday as he addressed a nation reeling from a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
The majority of those who died today were children – beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, Obama said partway into a four-minute statement.
Then he paused, tilting his head down and looking at his notes, for 12 long seconds. He wiped a tear from his left eye.
He continued: They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.
Then another pause, this time of seven seconds. Another tear wiped away.
He looked down and sighed.
It was a remarkable moment in the usually sterile James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. A few feet away, off stage, press secretary Jay Carney and deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco gripped each others hands and wept as they watched their boss speak.
But the scene, emotional as it was, also served to highlight Obamas complicated and uneasy relationship with the issue of gun control, which most liberals strongly back but which the Democratic president has avoided. Obama has at various times hinted at a desire to toughen gun laws but has done nothing legislatively to advance the issue.
On Friday, after reciting a list of recent mass shootings, Obama said that we have been through this too many times. He called for meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
But he provided no specifics, and gun-control advocates immediately called on him to move swiftly to toughen firearms restrictions. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent and one of the nations leading proponents of stronger gun limits, said Obamas words were not enough.
President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown, Bloomberg said in a statement. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for meaningful action is not enough. We need immediate action.
Obama pledged to address gun violence in similarly general terms in January 2011, when he spoke at a memorial service for six people fatally shot in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Ariz.
We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence, Obama said that night. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.
So far, though, his administration has not proposed any measures to accomplish that goal.
On Friday, Obama ended his comments by quoting Scripture. Heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds, he said.
Then he walked away in silence.