Michelle Obama and guests clap during the 2015 State of the Union last January.

Michelle Obama and guests clap during the 2015 State of the Union last January. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Why One Seat in the First Lady’s Guest Box at the State of the Union Will Be Empty

It’s a visceral symbol of the president’s latest policy passion: gun control.

Every year, guns kill 30,000 people. At Pres­id­ent Obama’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress Tues­day, those vic­tims will have a seat set aside.

A White House of­fi­cial Fri­day said that for the ad­dress—Obama’s sev­enth and fi­nal op­por­tun­ity to pro­claim that the “state of our uni­on is strong”—the pres­id­ent will leave one seat in first lady Michelle Obama’s guest box empty to hon­or the gun-vi­ol­ence vic­tims “who no longer have a voice.”

“They need the rest of us to speak for them,” the of­fi­cial said. “To tell their stor­ies. To hon­or their memory. To sup­port the Amer­ic­ans whose lives have been forever changed by the ter­rible ripple ef­fect of gun vi­ol­ence—sur­viv­ors who’ve had to learn to live with a dis­ab­il­ity, or without the love of their life. To re­mind every single one of our rep­res­ent­at­ives that it’s their re­spons­ib­il­ity to do something about this.”

Obama has been on a pub­lic cru­sade for gun con­trol since the start of the year. In an emo­tion­al speech Tues­day, he an­nounced a pack­age of ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions to curb gun vi­ol­ence, in­clud­ing nar­row­ing the gun-show loop­hole. Re­call­ing the 20 chil­dren gunned down at 2012 ele­ment­ary-school shoot­ing in New­town, Con­necti­c­ut, he teared up: “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

He de­fen­ded those ac­tions in a town hall on guns Thursday night, field­ing ques­tions from NRA sup­port­ers and gun-con­trol act­iv­ists alike. And in an op-ed inThe New York Times, he de­clared that this cycle, he would be a single-is­sue voter, pledging that he wouldn’t  “cam­paign for, vote for, or sup­port any can­did­ate, even in my own party, who does not sup­port com­mon-sense gun re­form.”

White House aides prom­ise that un­like after New­town, when Obama urged Con­gress to pass gun-con­trol le­gis­la­tion that ul­ti­mately failed, Tues­day’s ad­dress won’t be a policy wish list. In­stead, the pres­id­ent will take a “big-pic­ture ap­proach to some of the chal­lenges and op­por­tun­it­ies that we face as a coun­try,” a seni­or White House Of­fi­cial said last month.