CHICAGO (AP) — President Barack Obama's support for gun control has its roots in a hometown plagued by deadly shootings — a city, he said Friday, where as many children die from guns every four months as were slaughtered at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut.
Obama told a Chicago audience that high-profile mass shootings are one part of a national tragedy created not just by guns but by communities where there is too little hope. As a result, he said, "too many of our children are being taking away from us."
It was an emotional return to a city whose recent shooting victims have included Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old drum majorette gunned down a mile from Obama's Chicago home just days after she performed at the president's inauguration in Washington. Standing before Hyde Park Academy students in their navy uniform shirts, the president said 65 children were killed by gun violence last year in Chicago. "That's the equivalent of a Newtown every four months," Obama said. Twenty children were among the dead in the Newtown massacre.
"This is not just a gun issue," Obama said. "It's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building, and for that we all share responsibility as citizens to fix it. We all share a responsibility to move this country closer to our founding vision, that no matter who you were or where you come from, here in America, you can decide your own destiny."
Obama was a reliable vote in favor of gun control as a state senator in the late 1990s, with one important exception that contributed to his only electoral loss. While running for the Democratic primary for a House seat in 1999, Obama missed a vote on a gun control measure that narrowly failed, an episode that he later said cost him any chance to win.
Gun control was not on Obama's agenda in his first term as president. But now, at the start of his second term, Obama is seizing an opportunity to act that emerged from national outrage over the Newtown shooting in December. He is pushing measures including background checks for all gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, even as both sides in the debate doubt he'll be able to achieve the full package.
"These proposals deserve a vote in Congress," Obama said in his Hyde Park Academy visit. It's rhetoric he also used in the State of the Union address Tuesday.
Earlier Friday at the White House, Obama honored the six educators killed in the Connecticut shooting by presenting the Presidential Citizens Medal to their families. "They gave their lives to protect the precious children in their care," Obama said.
In Chicago, Obama mourned the death of Pendleton, whose funeral Michelle Obama had attended. "Unfortunately, what happened to Hadiya's not unique," the president said. "It's not unique to Chicago, it's not unique to this country. Too many of our children are being taken away from us."
Critics of Obama's effort note that Chicago's spike in homicides offers evidence gun restrictions don't work. The city prohibited handguns until a 2010 Supreme Court ruling threw out the ban. Chicago then adopted a strict gun ordinance that requires gun owners to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check, pass a training class and pay fees that can be higher than the price of the weapons. Still, the city's homicide rate rose to more than 500 last year.
Gun control proponents say Chicago illustrates the need for tougher restrictions nationally because guns are coming from outside the city. Statistics show that more than half of the guns seized by Chicago police in the last 12 years came from other states. A University of Chicago study found that more than 1,300 guns confiscated by police since 2008 were purchased at a single store just outside city limits. More than 270 were used in crimes.
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