When President Obama introduced his executive actions on gun control, he wept as he talked about Sandy Hook Elementary. Wingnuts couldn’t understand why he would still cry over 20 dead first graders.
It took a long time. It took over 20 mass shootings since Barack Obama was sworn in as president.
It took the president coming before the nation time and time again to address another mass shooting.
But finally, having at long last given up hope that Congress would act, the president announced that he would do what he could, with a few very modest executive actions that would:
- Institute a uniform background check requirement wherever guns are sold — in stores, at gun shows, and online. Currently no background check is required to buy at gun shows or online.
- Provide funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce existing gun laws.
- Invest $500 million to increase access to mental health care and reporting to the background check system. Both the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are in the process of making rules to provide the background check system with information about individuals prohibited from possessing firearms.
- Direct the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety.
It’s all fairly unobjectionable stuff that Congress just won’t do; stuff that a president who’s eulogized too many mass shooting victims got tired of waiting for Congress to do.
So, when President Obama finally stood to address gun violence, his mind probably went back to when he eulogized Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and the other eight victims of the Charleston, S.C. shooting. Perhaps he thought about the police officer and the young mother killed in the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. Maybe he remembered visiting with the families of the victims in Roseburg, Ore. He likely remembered speaking at the memorial for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting. He probably thought about former Arizona representative Gabbie Giffords, and the other victims of the Tucson, Ariz. shooting.
But inevitably, his mind went back to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first graders, all just 6 or 7 years old, went to school one December morning two years ago, and never came home again. Tears fell from President Obama’s eyes as he remembered those children, and the gun violence that stole their lives — and so many others — away.
Conservatives, lacking any real response or alternative to the president’s plan, mocked his tears.
Brietbart.com film critic John Nolte tweeted that President Obama was really “giving America the finger” when he wiped away “fake-fascist tears.”
Before his fake-fascist tears began to roll, Obama used his classic move to give America the finger… pic.twitter.com/VEBpdWNgcM
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) January 6, 2016
Nolte also had a theory for how the president “faked” his tears.
MYSTERY: Obama touches eyes seconds before fascist tears rolls. Why? Ben-Gay proven to create fascist tears. pic.twitter.com/HKXrLj985m
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) January 5, 2016
It only got worse from there:
- Fox News Host Andrea Tantaros suggested that President Obama had used a “raw onion” to produce fake tears for shooting victims.
- Tantaros went on to call the president’s press conference a “pep rally over the torching of the US constitution.”
- Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman weighed in, calling out the presidents “crocodile tears.” Zimmerman wrongly claimed the president “conveniently left out Fort Hood.” President Obama mentioned Fort Hood in the very first paragraph of his remarks, after thanking the audience for being there.
- Famed conservative crier Glenn Beck suspected President Obama rubbed Vicks under his eye to make himself cry. Beck also claimed that President Obama never cried before. Except for more than a dozen times.
- Beck went on to suggest that the president’s executive actions would lead to more suicides and “back alley medicine for people with depression.”
- Fox News host Katie Pavlich suggested that the president should “work with organizations like the NRA,” if he wants to work on guns. This is the same NRA that stayed away from the CNN town hall on guns , and chose to tweet from a safe distance.
- Instead the NRA started claiming early in the week that President Obama is “our biggest threat to national security.”
- Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded with a website warning that “Obama wants your guns.”
- Cruz protested the president’s executive action by raffling off an engraved shotgun to supporters who donate $35 to enter a contest for a chance to win it.
- New Jersey governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Chris Christie said that President Obama was behaving like a “petulant child.”
- Former Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush decried the president’s “gun grabbing agenda.” Bush also claimed that the “so-called gun show loophole” doesn’t exist.
- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that the president was moving toward banning guns.
- Presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the president is “obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” though he once supported “reasonable restrictions” like those in the president’s executive actions.
- Radio host Bryan Fischer said the president’s executive actions were part of a plot to keep climate change deniers from owning guns.
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham suggested the president’s executive actions are about creating a “government database of gun owners.”
- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the president’s executive actions a “dangerous level of overreach.”
- Ryan also accused the president of being too “distracted” by dead children to defeat ISIS.
Of course, right-wingers wouldn’t understand why President Obama would weep over 20 dead first-graders. Nor would they understand why those tears would come as easily as they did when he eulogized those young victims, or why that grief was just as fresh as it was that December morning when America and the world began to absorb the violence that wiped out 26 lives in just five minutes — from the moment the killer entered the school to the moment he fired the last shot and ended his own life.
It was unspeakable. It was incomprehensible. The thought of what happened at Sandy Hook was as incongruous with the safety and innocence of an elementary school as the shattered glass, bullet holes, shell casings and bloodstains that spoke of the unimaginable horror of the last moments of children who had probably just kissed their parents goodbye for the last time, only moments before.
At the time, it was enough to make anyone weep. Many of us did, again and again; openly, at memorials and vigils for the victims; quietly, after having explain to our children what happen, or why their school had safety drills to teach students how to hide or evacuate the school in the event of an active shooter.
Yet, for a moment, many of us also hoped. Surely the loss of so many innocent lives, would finally be the catalyst that would cause Americans to say, “Enough.” Surely, we couldn’t look at the faces of those children, without demanding that our leaders do something to prevent one more disturbed person from amassing the firepower to destroy so many lives, so quickly.
We hoped that Americans would be unable to shrug off the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and go on with business as usual. We hoped that, as Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook, said when he introduced the president, “We are better than this.”
But we were not better than that. Congress did nothing. Too few of us demanded change. The status quo held, and identical horrors visited Charleston, Roseburg, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino. Today, it’s not just a question of when the next massacre will happen, but where and when.
Perhaps the president wept not just for the lives lost at Sandy Hook, the lives lost to gun violence since then, or the lives that will be lost to gun violence. Perhaps the president wept because we are still not better than a nation that looks on complacently as tragedy after preventable tragedy unfolds.
Perhaps the president wept because it’s still unclear whether we want to be “better than this.” Recent polls show a majority of Americans support favor the presidents gun control proposals. A new CNN poll shows that 67 percent of Americans support President Obama’s executive actions, while 32 percent are opposed. There’s reason to hope. But we have hoped before, and been disappointed before.