Barack Obama calls the Sandy Hook school shooting 'the saddest day of my presidency'

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read

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.”

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, during a press briefing at the White House in Washington December 14, 2012. A heavily armed gunman opened fire on school children and staff at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, killing 26 people including 18 children in the latest in a series of shooting rampages that have tormented the United States this year, U.S. media reported.     REUTERS/Larry Downing  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Then-President Barack Obama discussing the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., during a press briefing at the White House on Dec. 14, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)

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.”

President Barack Obama reacts as Counterterrorism chief and adviser John Brennan briefs him at the White House on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012, in this White House handout photo released January 4, 2013. The president later said during a television interview that this was "the worst day of his Presidency." REUTERS/Peter Souza/Official White House Photo/Handout  (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
President Barack Obama reacts as Counterterrorism chief and adviser John Brennan briefs him at the White House on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Souza/Official White House Photo/Handout)

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.”

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L), US Vice President Joe Biden (C) and  families who suffered gun-violence, speaks on gun control and the vote at the US Senate on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC.  The US Senate rejected bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks for firearm sales, leaving a gaping hole in President Barack Obama's drive to improve gun safety after December's school massacre. With 60 votes needed for approval, the measure requiring background checks on sales at gun shows and on the Internet fell well short, in a 54-46 vote, as a handful of Democrats either facing tough re-election challenges in 2014 or from pro-gun states stood in opposition of the amendment. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Then-President Barack Obama speaking in the Rose Garden in April 2013, after Congress failed to pass gun control bills. (Photo: AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN)

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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