CHICAGO — 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.
The lesson for the future president: Don't sit idly by in reaction to gun violence.
Obama appears to have taken that lesson to heart. Gun control was not on his agenda in his first term, but the president responded quickly to 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.