President Obama is known for keeping his emotions in check, but on the issue of gun control, the emotion flows freely. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

This president has been criticized for being too detached. He's been called too academic, too clinical.

And when he started speaking in the East Room of the White House Tuesday morning, listeners could practically predict what they were about to hear: This happens too often. We've become numb to it. The United States is the only civilized nation in the world with this level of gun violence.

But gun control seems to be one issue over which the president lets his emotions out. He struggled to keep them in check after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He led an entire congregation in singing "Amazing Grace" after Charleston. And today, in the wake of more shootings – most recently in San Bernardino, Calif. – he let tears flow freely. This issue is personal.

Obama's speech asked a lot of questions. The frustration and grief he's expressed before led to little change in gun laws. As he teared up on stage, it was hard not to wonder, was he asking whether the nation had done all it could, or whether he had?