Comments by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Gun Proposals
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE VICE PRESIDENT
ON GUN VIOLENCE
South Court Auditorium
11:52 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Before I begin today, let me say to the families of the innocents who were murdered 33 days ago, our heart goes out to you. And you show incredible courage — incredible courage — being here. And the President and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and your wives with the work we take up here today.
It’s been 33 days since the nation’s heart was broken by the horrific, senseless violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 — 20 beautiful first-graders gunned down in a place that’s supposed to be their second sanctuary. Six members of the staff killed trying to save those children. It’s literally been hard for the nation to comprehend, hard for the nation to fathom.
And I know for the families who are here that time is not measured in days, but it’s measured in minutes, in seconds, since you received that news. Another minute without your daughter. Another minute without your son. Another minute without your wife. Another minute without your mom.
I want to personally thank Chris and Lynn McDonald, who lost their beautiful daughter, Grace, and the other parents who I had a chance to speak to, for their suggestions and for — again, just for the courage of all of you to be here today. I admire the grace and the resolve that you all are showing. And I must say I’ve been deeply affected by your faith, as well. And the President and I are going to do everything to try to match the resolve you’ve demonstrated.
No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.
As the President knows, I’ve worked in this field a long time — in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation — the last gun violence legislation, I should say. And I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us. But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.
It’s in this context that the President asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have. And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups — not just individuals, representing groups — 229 groups from law enforcement agencies to public health officials, to gun officials, to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders. And I’ve spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.
And the recommendations we provided to the President on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They’re based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence — ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.
We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can. And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So some of what you will hear from the President will happen immediately; some will take some time. But we have begun. And we are starting here today and we’re going to resolve to continue this fight.
During the meetings that we held, we met with a young man who’s here today — I think Colin Goddard is here. Where are you, Colin? Colin was one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre. He was in the classroom. He calls himself one of the “lucky seven.” And he’ll tell you he was shot four times on that day and he has three bullets that are still inside him.
And when I asked Colin about what he thought we should be doing, he said, “I’m not here because of what happened to me. I’m here because of what happened to me keeps happening to other people and we have to do something about it.”
Colin, we will. Colin, I promise you, we will. This is our intention. We must do what we can now. And there’s no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America.
Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Good afternoon, everybody.
Let me begin by thanking our Vice President, Joe Biden, for your dedication, Joe, to this issue, for bringing so many different voices to the table. Because while reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one.
Over the month since the tragedy in Newtown, we’ve heard from so many, and, obviously, none have affected us more than the families of those gorgeous children and their teachers and guardians who were lost. And so we’re grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here, and recognizing that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.
But we also heard from some unexpected people. In particular, I started getting a lot of letters from kids. Four of them are here today — Grant Fritz, Julia Stokes, Hinna Zeejah, and Teja Goode. They’re pretty representative of some of the messages that I got. These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people.
Hinna, a third-grader — you can go ahead and wave, Hinna. That’s you — (laughter.) Hinna wrote, “I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children…I love my country and [I] want everybody to be happy and safe.”
And then, Grant — go ahead and wave, Grant. (Laughter.) Grant said, “I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook…I feel really bad.”
And then, Julia said — Julia, where are you? There you go — “I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others. I have four brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them.”
These are our kids. This is what they’re thinking about. And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.
And that’s why, last month, I asked Joe to lead an effort, along with members of my Cabinet, to come up with some concrete steps we can take right now to keep our children safe, to help prevent mass shootings, to reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.
And we can’t put this off any longer. Just last Thursday, as TV networks were covering one of Joe’s meetings on this topic, news broke of another school shooting, this one in California. In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.
So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. 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 is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.
And I’m going to do my part. As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.
We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.
And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it — and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.
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