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Associated Press
A man stands motionless where Hadyia Pendleton was killed before an anti-gun violence rally, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Chicago. The mounting homicide toll in President Barack Obama?s hometown is giving ammunition to both sides in the nation?s debate about gun rights and safety. Chicago has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation, but the despite that, the relentless shootings have made it Newtown, Conn., in slow motion. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO — They are counting the dead from gunfire again in Chicago, a city awash in weapons despite having one of the strictest gun-control ordinances in the nation.

After a year in which Chicago's death toll surpassed 500, the bloodshed has continued in 2013 at a rate of more than one killing a day. It was the city's deadliest January in more than a decade.

Now with this week's death of a 15-year-old drum majorette who had just returned from performing at President Barack Obama's inauguration, the mounting losses have put Obama's hometown at the center of the intensifying national debate over guns.

Both gun-rights and gun-control advocates are seizing on the city's woes — one side to push for greater access to guns for self-defense, the other to seek greater restrictions on gun sales.

"You've got these two philosophies that are butting heads, and they're butting heads in the biggest city in the middle of the United States," said David Workman, of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation. "And both sides are holding up Chicago as a punching bag."

Obama has made a point of mentioning the gun violence in Chicago when he laments last year's shooting rampages in a Colorado movie theater and Newtown, Conn. He offered condolences to the family of Hadiya Pendleton, the promising teen who was shot to death Tuesday as she talked with friends after school in a park about a mile from Obama's Chicago home. He stressed later that the threat posed by guns in his hometown is part of a larger story about dangers across the nation.

"I mean what is absolutely true is that, if you are just creating a bunch of pockets of gun laws without having sort of, a unified, integrated system — for example, of background checks — then ... it's going to be a lot harder for an individual community, a single community, to protect itself from this kind of gun violence," the president said in an interview with Telemundo.

His political opponents are making the most of the body count, too.

Newt Gingrich says he's trying to persuade House Republicans to hold hearings on Chicago's shootings. During an interview on CBS News, Gingrich called the city "the murder capital of the United States," adding, "If gun control works, Chicago ought to be safe."

Critics of gun control say Chicago's spike in homicides offers clear evidence that sharply restricting weapons endangers the public.