Barack Obama calls the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which took place on Dec. 14, 2012, “the worst day of my presidency.”
The 44th president made the comment while discussing his new book, A Promised Land, with Oprah Winfrey on The Oprah Conversation. While he doesn’t share his personal recollection of the horrible tragedy — in which 26 people, including 20 6- and 7-year-olds were shot dead at school — in his tome, as it’s not within the time frame covered in the volume, he said it was “a good example of the unexpected shocks that occur during the course of the presidency.”
He said as president, many tragedies can be averted by getting in front of potential terrorist threats, coups taking place, ethnic conflict and other violent scenarios with the intelligence that’s routinely provided to the president.
“If you’re doing a good job, then part of your job ... is to prevent a bunch of that bad stuff from happening. To anticipate it. To get ahead of it,” he said. “A lot of times, the best work that you do is stuff that people don’t know about and they don’t notice. And sometimes that gets difficult and Sandy Hook was probably the most anguish because you’re talking about 6-year-olds.”
He said his sadness soon turned to anger though when Congress failed to pass gun control bills.
“I will say that was not only maybe the saddest day of my presidency, but when Congress failed to do anything in the aftermath of Sandy Hook was probably the angriest I ever was during my presidency,” Obama said. “I was disgusted and appalled by the inaction because you had parents who had just lost their children sitting in front of senators and asking for very modest, reasonable approaches. This wasn’t some radical agenda. They were asking for more effective background checks and other provisions to keep firearms out of the hands of disturbed folks,” like gunman Adam Lanza, who medical experts later determined had severe mental health problems that were untreated.
Obama added, “It was all viewed as politics as opposed to of this human moment that we should have been able to respond to as a society.”
Winfrey referenced the pictures of “carnage” showing “little babies shot at their desk” that Obama was given of the shootings and asked he thought Americans would view gun violence differently if they were able to see those types of graphic images of school shootings.
“Gun violence is one of those issues I think we are far away from the promised land on. It’s become such a culture hot button issue. It’s become wrapped up with people’s sense of identity and the degree to which the country is divided,” he said. “It’s gotten very polarized — and I think unwinding that polarization around that issue is going to take some time.”
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