Whenever the president talks about the 20 children slaughtered at a school in Newtown, Conn., his emotions come to the fore. It happened in the hours after the Dec. 14, 2012, tragedy when he dabbed away tears as he spoke to the nation from the White House briefing room. It happened Tuesday in the East Room of the White House as he announced new executive actions on guns. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said as tears started streaming down his face.
It is as startling as it is refreshing to see a president emotionally react to events. But as powerful as that moment was, what Obama said preceding it was just as powerful because it made a substantive case for action.
. . . Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.
The president went on to talk about the other rights denied to victims of gun violence.
Our right to peaceful assembly — that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
That’s the key to all of this. No right is absolute. Therefore, we must balance them against others. The right to bear arms should not impinge upon anyone else’s right to freedom of worship, of assembly and of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The president and Vice President Biden made a big push to get some kind of gun control measure through Congress. And the National Rifle Association saw to it that their efforts failed.
According to the tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit, there have been 1,048 mass shootings in the three full years since the Newtown massacre. Obama has spoken to the nation after seven of them. So there should be little surprise or wonder why Obama looked for ways to go around Congress. That’s especially so after you look at the tally compiled on Twitter by Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress of NRA contributions to members of Congress criticizing the president’s actions.
“So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage,” Obama said to applause. “We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.” No, we do not. And the president told us how to make our voices heard in this long-term endeavor.
. . . [A]ll of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies. All of us need to stand up and protect its citizens. All of us need to demand governors and legislatures and businesses do their part to make our communities safer. . . . And we need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way, to remember come election time. . . .Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, anytime. Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate. We have to be just as organized in defense of our kids. This is not that complicated. The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections. And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you.
You heard the man. Time to redouble our efforts. Our rights are at stake.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj