Obama Will Have to Talk About Guns During His Post-SOTU Tour Whether He Wants to or Not

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 29 2014 12:30 PM

Obama Will Have to Talk About Guns During His Post-SOTU Tour Whether He Wants to or Not

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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Costco store January 29, 2014 in Lanham, Maryland. Repeating some of the same policy proposals from his State of the Union speech the night before, Obama is beginning a two-day, four-state tour to promote a raise in the minimum wage, immigraiton reform and other other policy ideas.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama made scant mention of gun control during last night's state of the union address. He uttered the word "gun" only once during a speech that clocked in just shy of 7,000 words—a tacit acknowledgment of how the national gun debate is again largely at a standstill one year after the Newtown tragedy. On Thursday, however, when Obama heads to a Tennessee high school as part of his post-SOTU tour to sell Americans on those priorities he did talk at length about in his annual speech to Congress, the issue of guns and gun safety will demand more of his attention—certainly more than the White House staff must have originally thought when they placed the visit on his schedule. 

The Tennessean reports this morning that a 15-year-old student at McGavock High—the school Obama is to visit—was shot and killed by a 17-year-old classmate last night in an apartment. It's a sad story, but the sadder one may be that it's not an uncommon one. According to police, witnesses say that Kaemon Robinson was playing with a pistol last night when it discharged, striking Keven Barbee in the face. Both boys were sophomores at the school, and are said to have been friends. Barbee is now dead, while Robinson is in police custody and charged with criminal homicide. The school, meanwhile, is bringing in grief counselors to talk to students today—all while prep work is still underway for the president's visit tomorrow.

Of course, the reality is that Obama wouldn't have to look hard to find a reason to talk about guns at schools if he wanted to. But Barbee's death will nonetheless provide a dark backdrop for the president's visit, one that will likely force him to depart, however briefly, from his planned focus on education and yet again assume his all-too-familiar role as consoler in chief.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.