12/17/2012 11:43 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

An Open Letter to My Children in a Town Not Far From Newtown

My Dearest Children:

By now, we have talked about the recent tragedy in a school less than 100 miles away from us, where children and teachers were shot with guns by someone who had problems in his head. Your mother and I join the millions of people everywhere who are sad and shocked that something as bad as this can happen.

We talked a little about guns yesterday, and you wondered why people can get them easily, and asked whether they needed to take lessons and a test about safety the way that people do before they are allowed to drive a car. I know that you were not satisfied with my answer, that many people in this country believe they should be able to buy what they want.

As I told you, there is a basic law called the Second Amendment that some people think guarantees Americans access to buying guns. I tried to explain that there are powerful groups in this country with a lot of money who mention this basic law as a reason that our leaders should stop laws that would make it harder for people to get guns, or that would make really big guns illegal for people to have at all.

After what happened at the school in Connecticut, there are now many people in our country who are saying that they do want it to be much harder for people to get guns. We know that other countries in general do not have as many situations of one or two people killing lots of others, and that part of the problem is that guns make this easier to do. This is why your mom and I don't really like you to play with toy guns, and we definitely support laws that make it more difficult for people to have guns.

Yet guns are not the only problem here. Sometimes people do really bad things. And sometimes, as you know, the environment around these people doesn't provide the help they need, or good examples for them to find ways to resolve their frustrations peacefully.

The man who attacked the school in Connecticut seems to have been sick in his head. Something wrong with his brain likely let him do the terrible thing he did. Our communities and country are supposed to take care of sick people, and try to help make them better. If they can't do this, they are supposed to keep the sick people safe and away from other people if they can't get along. But we have made decisions that this kind of help is not the most important use of the money we all pay to the government. So people who have sickness with their brains are not always getting the help they need.

I know you have seen kids in your class be mean to other kids. Your mom and I appreciate that we live in a town that takes the problem of bullying seriously, and that your school has a culture that says that bullying or otherwise being cruel to your schoolmates is not okay.

I am sad to say that our country does not have a culture right now like the one in your school. Though I love many things about the United States, it seems OK in our media to attack others, to lie, and to use power, especially in the form of money, to try to get what you want or argue. I am not sure how we got this way. I remember times in my lifetime, and even recently, when our country was able to come together with common pride, sorrow or idealism.

Mostly, though, at least on our national TV and radio airwaves, we seem to yell, blame each other, and make people feel bad and scared. In a culture like this, there are a lot of frustrated and angry people who don't always get good guidance about how they should deal with their concerns. I don't want you to be too frightened by this, but I do hope that we can be part of a change back to a country where we can feel safer to share our hopes and dreams in public.

Many people in our country, and the majority of people in many other countries, believe that government programs and popular culture can make a real difference in helping us solve our problems through peace and dialogue, and to get help when this is difficult. While your mother and I believe this as well, we respect the fact that there are others in the United States that think otherwise.

Those people believe that it is dangerous for government to act as a safety net when it gets in the way of individual choices. I feel strongly that we need to try to talk to people like this calmly, listen to their views, but also encourage them to understand that there are always groups in every society that try to influence individuals. The question is really whether the people we vote for freely or people who don't have to answer to us more deserve our trust.

In any case, I am so proud of the way that each of you tries to be kind to everyone around you, including to people who are different than you or with whom you disagree. We grown-ups can really learn something from you and other children, just as we hope that our own experience is sometimes helpful to you. I hope that you will continue to feel that you can talk to us about anything that upsets you and that you will always know that, even when you disagree with us or we mess up, we love you with an unbreakable bond and a faith that together we can make our country and the world a more caring place.