The Washington Post

President Obama’s enough-is-enough Newtown speech

President Obama's speech Sunday night at a memorial service for the victims -- mostly children -- of a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a forceful assertion that the politics surrounding guns (and gun control) must change.

"We can't tolerate this anymore," Obama said. "We are not doing enough and we will have to change." (Full transcript of speech here.)

Obama noted that this was the fourth time in his presidency that he has had to grieve with a community after an incident of mass murder with a gun. But, his speech in Connecticut Sunday was a significant departure from the other addresses he had given to communities torn apart by shooting sprees.

Speaking in Aurora, Colorado just days after a gunman opened fire in a movie theater this summer, Obama was somber, subdued -- and decidedly apolitical. The closest Obama got to making a statement (of any sort) came in the speech's last line in which he said: "I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country, but also reflect on all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on Earth."

It was a very different Obama who took the stage at the Newtown memorial Sunday, a president not just saddened by the tragedy but fed up with the lack of forward movement in hopes of preventing the next one.

One sentence in Obama's speech sums up his state of mind. "I'll use whatever power this office holds...in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said -- a line the incumbent never came close to uttering in Aurora or, before that, in Tucson in 2011

What Obama's speech seemed to signal is that, at least in his mind, a tipping point has been reached -- that the slaughter of 20 first graders should not be soon forgotten, that it should mean something. 

His critics will note that he offered no specifics as to where he would hope to change laws on guns and that his speech in Newtown, unlike the address in Aurora, came after his second term was assured and he knew he would never need to stand for election again.

Both facts are true. But neither subtract from the fact that Obama could have very easily delivered a speech heavy on empathy and light on anything in the way of a call to action. That he chose to go in a very different direction is a telling indication of his commitment to try to make something happen on gun laws.

Obama's speech Sunday night could be summed up in three words: Enough is enough. Now, can he lead a divided nation to see things his way?

Read more from Washington Post Politics

Obama in Newtown: 'We will have to change'

Will Newtown be a tipping point in the gun-control debate?

What Obama said about guns during the 2012 campaign

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 36%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.