At an event marking the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, former President Barack Obama reflected on what he still considers the worst day he spent in office.
“I consider December 14, 2012, the single darkest day of my presidency,” Obama said Tuesday night at the Sandy Hook Promise “10-Year Remembrance Benefit” in New York City. “Like so many other people I felt not just sorrow but I felt angry, fury in a world that could allow such a thing.”
Twenty-six people — including 20 children, all of them 6 or 7 years old — were killed in the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that day. It remains one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
Two days after the killings, Obama travelled to Newtown to meet with the families of the victims and address the community, which he has said was equally tough. (“It’s the only time I ever saw Secret Service cry,” he said in 2017, shortly before leaving office.)
Obama said that what followed was “perhaps the most bitter disappointment” of his presidency.
“The closest I came to being cynical was the utter failure of Congress to respond in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings,” he said on Tuesday. “To see almost the entire GOP, but also a decent number of Democrats, equivocate and hem and haw and filibuster and ultimately bend yet again to pressure from the gun lobby.
“I would not have blamed the Sandy Hook families for giving up after that,” Obama continued. “I wouldn’t blame them for falling into cynicism and disgust and despair.”
Obama commended Sandy Hook Promise co-founders Mark Barden (whose 7-year-old son Daniel was among the children killed at the school) and Nicole Hockley (whose 6-year-old son Dylan was among those slain) for their perseverance.
“Mark and Nicole told me then that they would not give up – that ending gun violence would be their life’s work,” Obama said. “And because they didn’t give up, because they and advocates from all across the country refused to give up, President Biden signed into law just this year the first major piece of federal gun safety legislation in nearly three decades.”
In June, following the shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, Biden signed bipartisan legislation that bolstered mental health programmes and closed the so-called boyfriend loophole, under which unmarried people convicted of domestic abuse could still obtain weapons. But the package did not include many of the tougher restrictions that advocates had called for, including banning AR-15-style rifles, raising the purchasing age on such weapons to 21 and background checks for all gun transactions.
And while the gala event Tuesday was meant to be celebratory, Obama said efforts to end gun violence are not over.
“In 2022, there has not been a single week – not one – without a mass shooting somewhere in America,” he said. “We pretend that the best we can do for the families of Sandy Hook, Parkland and Virginia Tech and so many other communities is to tinker around the edges and then offer rope recitations of our thoughts and our prayers when violence explodes once again.
“So, I will admit, I still get angry every time I read about the latest senseless shooting,” Obama said. “Whether it is in a church or a synagogue in a grocery store or a college campus or at home or on a city street, I still feel anger. And I hope you do too.
“This is a celebration of extraordinary work by extraordinary people,” he added. “But we should still feel some sense of outrage.”
Obama ended his remarks on Tuesday the same way he concluded his speech in Newtown nearly 10 years ago: reading the names of each of those killed.
“The souls that were lost that day, those of 20 beautiful children and six courageous adults,” he said. “Their souls remain part of us.”
- A Reuters report