The current round of efforts to curb gun violence began after the massacre of 20 children in an elementary school in Connecticut. So it is probably not accidental that both sides in the increasingly acrimonious debate have turned to children to help reinforce their cases.
In announcing his package of proposals Wednesday, President Obama was flanked by children who wrote him letters about gun violence in the weeks after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14. In addition to killing the children, mainly first-graders, gunman Adam Lanza used an assault rifle to kill six adults at the school. Earlier, he shot his mother to death in the house they shared and ended his rampage by killing himself in the school.
Families of those killed in the massacre, as well as survivors of the shooting, were in the audience, along with other dignitaries, but the president singled out four children who sent him letters – “pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people,” the president said.
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe,” Obama said in a televised announcement of his proposals. “This is how we will be judged.”
WHO THEY WERE: Connecticut shooting victims
The letters, released by the White House, are from Grant Fritz, 8; Julia Stokes, 11; Hinna Zeejah, 8; and Taejah Goode, 10. All are heart-rending and mention how sad the writers are about the events in Connecticut. They also display an urgency to end gun violence.
“I am writing to you to ask you to STOP gun violence,” Taejah wrote. “I am very sad about the children who lost their lives in Conn. So I thought I would write to you to STOP gun violence. Thank you Mr. President. (signed) You American, Taejah.
“I think there should be some changes in the law with guns,” wrote Grant. “It’s a free country, but I recommend there needs be a limit with guns. Please don’t let people own machine guns or other powerful guns like that.” Grant tacked on a postscript to reassure the president: “I know you’re doing your best.”
Julia, at 11, takes note that there is a political process in Washington and that sometimes it seems that a fight is necessary.
“I may not [be] that into politics but my opinion is that it should be very hard for people to buy guns. The only thing they do is harm or kill and guns should only be used in [the] most horrible event where others will get hurt if they are not. I know that laws have to be passed by congress, but I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed. Not just for me, but for the whole United States.”
Despite those pleas, the battle over Obama’s proposals is sure to be fierce as gun rights groups fight what they see as attempts to limit the 2nd Amendment protections on gun ownership.
In an ad, the National Rifle Assn. also invoked children -- the president’s daughters -- to push its agenda that armed guards should be placed in schools, rather than limiting gun or ammunition ownership. The White House immediately branded the ad campaign as a repugnant and cowardly attack.
The NRA ad calls Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for not embracing armed guards even though his daughters have armed protection at school.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” the ad asks. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
The White House response was swift.
“Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “But to go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”
“I mean, it is disgusting on many levels,” Gibbs said. “It’s also just stupid.”