"Dear President Obama," began a letter from 8-year-old Grant
Fritz, with the shaky printing -- missed words, spelling
errors -- of someone just learning how to put thoughts down
"I think there should be some changes in the law with guns,"
Fritz said in the December 17 letter he sent to the president
days after the Newtown school shootings.
Invited to the White House on Wednesday (local time), Fritz
and three other children in their Sunday best sat on stage as
Obama read out parts of their letters to illustrate why he
wants to tighten gun laws.
The children's' presence at Obama's announcement aimed to
keep kids at the heart of the often emotional battle over gun
control, which reignited with the murder of 20 first-graders
in Newtown, Connecticut, last month.
The president's own young daughters were dragged into the
fray this week when the National Rifle Association put out an
ad accusing Obama of hypocrisy by giving the girls armed
Secret Service protection.
That broke a long-held taboo against using a president's
children in political attacks and outraged the White House,
which described the ad as "repugnant."
A-GRADE VS FIRST GRADE
With the letter-writing children looking on, Obama announced
wide-ranging plans for gun control, including bringing an
assault weapon ban to Congress. He challenged Americans to
ask their lawmakers to support his plan despite objections
from groups who believe the measures will infringe on gun
"Ask them what's more important: doing whatever it takes to
get a 'A' grade from the gun lobby that funds their
campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they
drop their child off for first grade?" Obama said to applause
from a crowd of interest groups, Democratic lawmakers and law
enforcement officials who agree with his plan.
Anger and pain over the December 14 Newtown shooting has been
a common topic in the stacks of letters from Americans that
flood into the White House. Obama says he reads 10 letters a
day from the public.
Julia Stokes, 11, wrote that she "may not (be) that into
politics but my opinion is that it should be very hard for
people to buy guns."
"I know that laws have to be passed by congress but I beg you
to try very hard to make guns not allowed," wrote Julia, who
dotted her 'i' with a heart.
Hinna Zeejah, 8, whose patent-leather Mary Jane shoes didn't
reach the floor as she sat on the White House stage, wrote,
"I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children."
In the front row of the event sat Chris and Lynn McDonald,
whose 7-year-old daughter, Grace, was killed at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in Newtown.
"I'm told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of
becoming a painter," Obama said. Her parents looked at each
other and smiled as the president spoke of how one of Grace's
paintings now hangs in his private study.
The horror of the Newtown school shooting made a significant
difference in the debate over gun violence, said Annette
Nance-Holt, who lost her only child, Blair, in a shooting on
a city bus, when he was coming home from school in 2007.
"In Chicago, we've been waiting for a long time. I don't just
represent Blair - that was my baby - but there are so many
other babies in the city of Chicago that have been gunned
down innocently," Nance-Holt told reporters, wearing a
picture of her son on her lapel.
"Now we have a groundswell of movement. We have 20 babies,
and people are looking at this totally different."
Obama was criticized by conservative pundits and bloggers as
using children as political "props."
"I don't even know what to say about the White House
publishing letters from children for political purposes. It's
just so disgusting," tweeted Michelle Clouthier, a
In its ad, the NRA accused Obama of being "just another
elitist hypocrite" for allowing armed Secret Service
protection for his daughters but turning down the lobby
group's proposal after the Newtown shooting to put armed
guards in all schools.
That drew fire from White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"Most Americans agree that a president's children should not
be used as pawns in a political fight. But to go so far as to
make the safety of the president's children the subject of an
attack ad is repugnant and cowardly," Carney said.