Children have become a central theme in the nation's battle against gun violence and were frequently mentioned when President Obama unveiled a sweeping plan to curb the epidemic. In remarks at a mid-day press conference, he read excerpts from three of the scores of letters he's received from kids around the nation who worry about gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings.
"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," Obama said, "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."
The president urged Americans from around the nation, not just those from "congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong," to also lend their voices to what has always been a controversial issue. They should get on record their congressional lawmakers' stand on things like renewing the assault weapon ban, and if they don't, he said, "Ask them why not."
Many Capitol Hill lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, fear the powerful gun lobby and how it might respond should they support certain aspects of the president's plan. Obama noted that influence in his remarks.
"Ask them what's more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade," he said to applause.
Recalling his visit to Newtown after the shootings, Obama spoke of a slain child named Grace who dreamed of becoming a painter. Grace's parents gave the president one of her paintings that hangs in his private study off of the Oval Office and serves as a reminder of how important it is to act swiftly for her and countless other people who've been victimized by senseless violence.
"Let's do the right thing," he said.
One of the 23 executive orders Obama signed today includes funding for additional school resource officers, an idea that some say may need more thought.
"Should the White House pursue this approach of placing more police in schools, there must be specific restrictions on how resources are allocated to ensure there are not unintended consequences for the youth we are all trying to protect," said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement project.
"These are common sense ideas and reforms that need to take place. The combination of legislative action by Congress as well as the president signing numerous executive orders today demonstrates his commitment, his administration's commitment to getting things done now," said Nutter, who heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I certainly call on the Congress to take up that same sense of urgency on behalf of the American people and especially the safety and security of our children — our most precious resource in this great country."
NAACP Washington Bureau Chief Hilary Shelton called the president's actions "courageous," noting they will rankle lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He recalled how the original assault weapon ban was in part in response to gun violence in Black communities around the nation, at a time when stepping on someone's sneakers or talking to another guy's girlfriend could result in a shooting.
"But we knew that the issue was bigger than the African-American communities. [Former President George W.] Bush let it sunset, he actually let it expire and now we're seeing what's still happening," he told BET.com after the news conference, adding that other measures such as stronger background checks that keep guns out of the wrong hands are just as critical. "We're happy to see a renewed emphasis to address those concerns and creating more security in our schools as well."
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)