Obama made it clear he does not expect gun laws to change during his remaining year in office, but pledged to do what he can to make gun control a theme in the months leading up to the November election to replace him.
In a powerful address in the White House, surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings, Obama’s voice rose to a yell as he said the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms needed to be balanced by the right to worship, gather peacefully and live their lives.
Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek.
“That changed me, that day,” he said, after being introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the shooting. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”
After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.
Obama, comparing the issue to the great civil rights causes of his time, is set to discuss gun violence again during a live televised town hall on CNN on Thursday, and during his State of the Union address next Tuesday.
Vice President Joe Biden is slated to do a series of television interviews on the topic on Wednesday.