President Barack Obama returned to his hometown today to address the gun violence that has plagued his hometown, suggesting that tougher gun laws, community involvement and improving urban economic conditions can help.
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The murders in Chicago last year are "the equivalent of a Newtown every four months. Americans are asking for common sense proposals to make it harder for Americans to get their hands on a gun," Obama said before an audience at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side.
The president pointed out that gun control won't stop every crime. Government can't solve every problem, the community has to be involved, he said.
"A child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child heart that government can't fill, only community, parents, teachers and clergy and fill that. In too many neighborhoods ...the future only extends to the next street corner or the outstretches of town," Obama said.
Obama circled back to economic questions, saying that too many children in America lack the belief they will be able to succeed in life, and the country needs to fix that. "This is not just a gun issue," he said.
And he called for strengthening the American "If a child grows up with parents who have work and some education and can be role models," the child gets "a foundation" that helps them succeed, he said.
The visit came just days after the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager killed in a shooting a mile from the Obamas' South Side home. After attending the services for Pendleton, first lady Michelle Obama invited her parents to join her in the balcony for the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Obama said he was proud of the young men from Hyde Park Academy that he met with earlier this afternoon.
"These are all exceptional young men. I'm proud of them because a lot of them have had some issues, that part of the reason (they) are in the program. I explained that I had issues too when I was their age.
"I had an environment that was a little bit more forgiving. When I screwed up, the consequences were a little less harsh than when kids on the South Side."
At the school, members of the Pendleton family had arrived, including her parents, Cleopatra and Nathaniel. Also on hand were members of the Wortham family. Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV was fatally shot in front of his parents' Chatham home in 2010 when attackers tried to rob him of a new motorcycle.
Religious leaders including the Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God in Woodland, and the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, are in the audience.
Among the city's political class, Obama adviser David Axelrod and Chicago Alds. Pat Dowell, Leslie Hairston and Willie Cochran were there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin are scheduled to attend.
Students sat in the bleachers alongside people in the community. The ROTC acted as volunteer ushers. ROTC member Timeca Donahue, 16, said the mood at the school has been "very tense and exciting."
"This is a once in a lifetime experience. It's extraordinary. It's hard to believe it's really happening," she said.
ROTC member Lola Oni, 17, said she is pleased that the president is trying to pass gun control laws.
"He's an important person nd people look up to him," she said. "If he does pass those laws, it will reduce some of the shooting but people still will have guns."
Stephanie Gordon, founder of the chicago chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control, said she recently recruited Cleopatra Pendleton to join the group.
"She can bring a voice," Gordon said. "Every member has a strong voice and are flaming the fuel to bring about stronger gun laws. There are so many inconsistencies in the laws across the country. The NRA is so well funded that our voices tend to get squeezed out.
"We don't believe strict gun laws are the only answer but they are a concrete place to start. We're hoping that Congress votes so that the community gets a vote."
The stop at Hyde Park Academy was billed by the White House as one of several stops the president is making to press for the economic package he outlined in his State of the Union speech. But the crowd was packed with gun control advocates.
SOURCE: Dahleen Glanton, John Byrne and Christi Parsons
The Chicago Tribune