Flanked by mothers who lost children to gun violence in Newtown, Chicago, and Virginia Tech, President Obama put pressure on Congress Thursday to not let more time pass without taking action on new gun reforms.
“Now’s the time to turn heartbreak into something real,” Obama said at the White House Thursday—more than 100 days after the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown left 26 people dead.
Without mentioning the National Rifle Association specifically, Obama criticized the “powerful voices on the other side” for banking on “running out the clock” on the memory of the tragic shooting and “drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all.”
“Their assumption is that people will just forget about it,” he said, while pointing out that the family members with him on stage had not forgotten. ”The people here, they don’t forget. Grace’s dad’s not forgetting. Hadiya’s mom’s not forgotten,” he said, a reference to the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who lost her life in the Newtown shooting, and teenager Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot in a Chicago park shortly after performing at the president’s second inauguration.
“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens, and we’ve moved on to other things? That’s not who we are,” Obama said. ”I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The gun debate has stalled in recent weeks after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to drop Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban from the broader gun control package being worked on by the Senate. Documents released by the FBI today revealed that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza had high capacity magazines that would be banned by such legislation. Obama reiterated that he will fight for a separate vote on that legislation.
The president pushed Americans to turn up the heat on potentially “squishy” lawmakers, hearkening back to his first presidential campaign mantra that “nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.”
“I want everybody who’s listening to make yourself heard right now,” he said. “”Make yourself unmistakably heard. We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn’t just a bunch of a platitudes.”
He also said that grassroots efforts from groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Organizing for Action will be key parts of the fight. Thursday marked a day of action for both groups, who are hosting events around the country urging constituents to contact their lawmakers.
“How often do 90% of Americans agree on everything?” he asked, referencing the many polls that have shown about 9 in 10 Americans support universal background checks. “If you’re part of that 90% who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or a severe mental illness…we should ask lawmakers why they’re part of the 10%.”
“We’ve cried enough, we’ve known enough heartbreak. What we’re proposing is not radical. It’s not taking away anybody’s gun rights. It’s something that if we are serious we will do,” he said. “There will still be evil, but we can make a difference.”
The president was introduced by Katerina Rodgaard, a mother of two young children, who lost one of her dance students in the massacre at Virginia Tech. After the Newtown shooting, Rodgaard joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense to advocate for new gun safety laws.
She took on the idea that gun rights should trump “the rights of our children to feel safe in this country,” which she said should be “paramount and worth fighting for.”
“Enough is enough. The time to act is now,” she said.
Shortly after the president’s remarks, Senator Marco Rubio co-signed onto a letter by Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee vowing to oppose any legislation that will “serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions,” indicating he would be willing to join the three to filibuster gun reform bills.