WASHINGTON (AP) — Three days after six teachers and 20 students were killed by a rampaging gunman at a Connecticut elementary school, an 8-year-old Maryland boy pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote President Barack Obama, asking for "some changes in the laws with guns."
"It's a free country but I recommend there needs (to) be a limit with guns," Grant Fritz said in the Dec. 17 letter. "Please don't let people own machine guns or other powerful guns like that."
In the days after the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., children around the country apparently had the same idea as Grant. They put their feelings about the massacre on paper and began sending letters to a receptive White House.
"I am writing to ask you to STOP gun violence," wrote Taejah Goode, a 10-year-old from Georgia. "I am very sad about the children who lost their lives. So, I thought I would write to you to STOP gun violence."
On Wednesday, when Obama announced a package of proposals to reduce gun violence, he was joined on stage by Grant, Taejah and two other children. Each had expressed their concerns about gun violence and school safety to the one person they think can make a difference — the president.
Obama read from their letters for the group of Cabinet secretaries, administration officials and others in a White House auditorium for the long-awaited announcement.
"These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people," Obama said. "So what we should be thinking about, is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up, and do everything that they're capable of doing. Not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change."
Obama called on Congress to require background checks for every gun buyer, to ban assault-style weapons and to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Before the announcement, the White House shared letters from Grant, Taejah and 11-year-old Julia Stokes with The Associated Press. None of the writers, including Grant, who is closest in age to the 6- and 7-year-olds killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said they opposed efforts to tighten access to guns. The White House did not immediately respond when asked whether it had received letters from children who disagreed with Obama on the need for stricter gun control.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying group for gun owners, has pledged to fight attempts by Congress to enact new restrictions, viewing such efforts as an infringement on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Some sportsmen and people who own guns for protection also oppose many gun control laws.
Julia, who lives in the District of Columbia and dotted the "I'' in her name with a heart, wrote that she has four brothers and sisters and "I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them." She closed her letter by acknowledging that Obama can't make all the changes people want by on his own.
"I know that laws have to be passed by Congress but I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed. Not just for me, but for the whole United States," Julia wrote, signing the letter with "my love and regrets."
From the stage, Obama responded: "Julia, I will try very hard."
The White House also did not give a reason for withholding the hometowns for Grant, Taejah and a fourth student also on stage, 8-year-old Hinna Zeejah.