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Obama meets Oceanside third-grader who wrote gun-control letter

Third-grader Hinna Zeejah, 8, talks about meeting meeting President Barack Obama and the letter she wrote him about gun control after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Jan. 16, 2013)

Hinna Zeejah, a third-grader in the Oceanside school district, intently watched television coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and had a simple question for her mother the next morning.

"Mama, why do we have guns?"

Before Nadia Zeejah could answer, her husband, Farhan, said, "Why don't you ask the president?"

Hinna, 8, then pulled out a piece of paper and drafted a letter so eloquent that it earned her family an invitation to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and stand at his side Wednesday as he announced sweeping gun reform measures.

"I just wanted to tell you that I feel really sad. Also I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children," Hinna wrote. "Mr. President, can we do something which will STOP all these terrible problems?"

Lower down, she wrote, "I love my country and I want everyone to be happy and safe."

Farhan Zeejah mailed his daughter's letter on Dec. 15, a day after a gunman shot dead 20 first-graders and six school staffers in Newtown, Conn.

On Friday the family received an email invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Wednesday, Hinna stood in the White House's South Court Auditorium with three other young students who also had written the president after the Newtown shootings. Vice President Joe Biden and Obama, in turn, spoke of immediate changes focused on stemming gun violence.

"I felt sad, angry and upset" about the shootings, Hinna said in a phone call from the nation's capital Wednesday afternoon, after the White House event. "I don't like guns. I'm really scared of them."

She said she thought the president could help and was pleased with his response. Hinna said she was thrilled to be at White House, where Obama shook her hand and hugged her.

He told her she did "good work" and told her mother that she "must be very proud."

Hinna also met the vice president.

When she got home Wednesday night, Hinna rushed in and sat at the kitchen table to thumb through photos of the first family and other White House mementos.

"This is the blue room," Hinna said, pointing to one picture. "And this is Bo," she said, referring to the first family's Portuguese water dog.

The president also signed the letter she sent him.

Her mother laughed when she realized Hinna had eaten the box of White House M&M's that she received that day.

Hinna's uncle Ozair Barlas, 28, of Hempstead, said his niece's common-sense approach to curbing gun violence is inspiring.

"If a kid can think like that, why can't we?" he said.

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