When news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School first broke, President Barack Obama stood before the nation, felt our grief and shed a tear.
It was a beautiful, touching moment — and I resented it.
I’m all for grown men crying. I’m all for presidents, in times of unexpected, shocking national tragedy, serving as a kind of pastor-in-chief, expressing our pain through their words.
But the Sandy Hook massacre was neither shocking nor unexpected. Gunmen shooting at innocent children? Seen it — several times this year, actually. Deranged white male with access to an arsenal? As common as snowflakes. SWAT teams leading children out of schools? Grief-stricken parents arriving at the scene? Agonizing, senseless funerals? Teddy bears piled up along chain link fences? Check, check, check.
I’m not blasé — I’m angry. And Obama’s tears were exactly what I didn’t need. For comfort, I have friends and family. When I want pastoral care, I’ll see my rabbi — hey, she’s also family. What I want from my president is this: action.
So I sat down and typed out the speech I wish the president had given that afternoon, while the wounds were fresh and the nation looked to him for direction. Would the pundits have cried, “Too soon!” and accused him of politicizing the massacre? Probably, but so what? The right speech — the one I wrote — goes beyond partisan politics.
This is the speech Obama should have given in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Dry-eyed and tear-free:
My Fellow Americans:
“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. … But while we will shed tears with you, and lead this nation in mourning — again — my duty as your president does not stop there.
“My sworn duty is to protect and defend American lives, and in the wake of yet another shooting tragedy, that is what I intend to do.
I stand before you today, and face the grief-stricken parents of Newtown, and the traumatized children who survived the killer’s rampage, and I make this vow to you: I will do everything in my power as president to stop gun violence in America.
“What does this mean?
It means attacking the problem through our laws, our courts, our social services and our media.
“Make no mistake, this is a deep, festering problem that generations of politicians — including myself — have preferred not to confront head-on. There is no one simple solution. Our approach will be all encompassing and thorough. And our goal is clear: the end to gun violence in America.
“First, we will change the laws. We will enact smart and effective legislation that targets the most dangerous guns and keeps all guns out of the hands of the people most likely to use them to commit crimes. These laws will vastly improve criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. We will push for a law that requires these checks for all gun sales. Right now, background checks only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales — via private parties and gun shows, for example — take place with no background check.
“There are over 200 million guns in this country today. The Second Amendment protects the lawful ownership and use of firearms, and that is a constitutional right we hold dear. The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. The goal of our legislation is not to reduce the safe, legal ownership of guns, but gun violence.
“Second, we will ensure that in every court throughout this land, those who commit violent crimes with guns, as well as those whose guns are used through negligence to commit a crime, will face maximum, mandatory penalties.
“Third, we will increase our support for intervention programs targeting the mentally ill, domestic abusers, gangs and other underlying causes of gun violence. In cases where there is inadequate funding or oversight, we will immediately fix it. Since too many of these mass shootings involve long-simmering hostilities that burst out into mayhem, we will educate communities to identify the risk factors and create swift intervention procedures before violence erupts. To focus solely on guns as the problem will not solve our problem: America is not the only country with high rates of gun ownership. Switzerland and Israel have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.
“Finally, we will focus on the media. We will use all forms of media to educate our young people away from violence, to stop its relentless glorification, and to teach ways to recognize and thwart violent behavior. While we hold the First Amendment and right to free expression as sacrosanct, we must strive to use the power of the media to solve, and not exacerbate, one of our country’s gravest problems.
“My fellow Americans, as a parent, I mourn with you today. But as your president, I cannot stand idly by while the blood of my countrymen is wantonly shed.
“There are 35 victims each day in this country from gun violence. About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after this tragic day, guns will have killed another 350 people.
“I stand before you as a parent and shed tears. I stand before you as president and say: ‘Enough!’ ”