Benjamin R. Barber: The Next Speech President Obama Needs to Make in the Wake of the Newtown Massacre

On Friday, December 14th, President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. as a parent. Here is the speech I believe he needs to give to Americans now as president:

“My Fellow Citizens: I speak to you today not as a parent, though as a parent I grieve with you for our children. I speak to you not as a fellow citizen, though as a fellow citizen I share your pain and hope to assuage your sorrow. I speak to you rather as president and chief executive officer of the United States of America whose first duty it is to protect American citizens — above all, those who cannot protect themselves, our children. A sovereign government acquires the right to govern only when it keeps the governed safe. Before anything else, the social contract must confer security on its citizens.

As a parent, I grieve with the affected families. As an individual, I ask myself how we might better recognize and treat the mental illnesses that contribute to these heinous massacres. But as your president I am bound to ask what can be done — what I can do now — to regulate, control and where necessary ban the micro-weapons of mass destruction with which the unstable and sick are making war on the unprotected and the vulnerable. As president, it is not enough for me to share you grief and counsel your sorrow, I must and I will confront those who defend weapons more zealously than children; who confound sport and safety with automatic weapons, large volume magazines and military ammunition designed to maim and kill; who hide behind a 200-year-old constitutional concern for militias well-armed with muskets in order to rationalize ownership of modern weapons for which there is no conceivable civilian use.

To those who say it is people and not guns that kill people, I say that while mental illness and murderous behavior is universal, semi-automatic weapons are multipliers that turn individual tragedies into community massacres. Around the same moment, 20 young children were being murdered in Connecticut, a crazed man was attacking children in Central China. But here is the difference: according to initial reports, not one of those children died. All 20 children attacked in Connecticut lost their lives.

I need not remind you, my fellow citizens, that we have nearly as many guns as people in our country — 300 million weapons; and that the horror in Connecticut was preceded recently, just in this year, by a horror in an Oregon mall, and other horrific mass killings in Minneapolis, Tulsa and Wisconsin — and of course in that Aurora, Colo. cinema were 12 died just last summer. Indeed, I speak to you today from this press room named for James Brady, shot in the gun attack on President Reagan.

As your president, I can no more ignore these acts than I can ignore attacks by foreign terrorists on the security of our nation. However unhappy their stories, however much we need to preempt their behaviors, their deeds make these gunmen domestic terrorists. They must be combated as such with all the resources of our government.

I am therefore announcing today that I have instructed the attorney general’s office, the FBI and other appropriate officials to work closely with me, with state and municipal police authorities across the nation, to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect Americans — and especially our children — against gun violence. I will propose legislation to regulate, control and where appropriate ban the weapons that are the instruments if not the cause of so much murder and mayhem. For murder and mayhem on the scale of recent years is an offense not just to all Americans, but to the sovereignty of our national government.

Furthermore, understanding the thicket of political and legal issues we will face in acting legislatively, even in such modest ways as reinstating the ban on assault weapons, I will also move immediately to invoke any and all powers that reside in the executive branch and within the law to take decisive action. My deep respect for the law means that I will welcome legal challenges to the measures I take; but my responsibility to sovereignty and the rule of law also means I will use every legal power I possess to act to curb this growing threat to the peace and security of our national community.

As a parent and your fellow citizen, I have only my compassion and prayers to give you. But we can no longer afford as a nation to defend our children against guns with nothing more than indignation and rhetoric. As your president, I therefore pledge the full weight and authority of my presidency, and all of the legal powers of the executive branch, to combat this intolerable scourge of gun violence.”

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