By Mike Lillis - 02/13/13 02:53 AM EST
Two years ago, in the wake of the assassination attempt on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, President Obama dismayed gun-reform advocates when he made no mention of gun control in his State of the Union speech.
Those advocates have little to grumble about this time around.
"It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different," Obama said in the first State of the Union speech of his second term.
With dozens of victims of gun violence looking on in the House chamber, Obama asked Congress to stage votes on proposals to expand background checks on gun purchases, ban assault weapons and prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote 'no,' that’s your choice, but these proposals deserve a vote," Obama said. "Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
In a balcony above sat the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago girl who performed during Obama's inaugural festivities last month, only to be killed days later in a shooting near Obama's Chicago home. Citing that incident, Obama made a plea for Congress to act on new weapons controls on behalf of her, Giffords and other recent victims of gun violence.
"She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend," Obama said. "Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.
"Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote," he added. "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote."
The debate over gun control has taken off since the tragedy in Newtown, where a lone gunman shot his way into an elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 young children.
Behind Obama, gun-control advocates on and off Capitol Hill are pushing numerous reforms designed to prevent similar tragedies. The package includes efforts to improve the nation's mental health system, but focuses most intently on tougher gun laws.
Pushing back have been gun control opponents in Congress and the National Rifle Association, which is calling for a program to put armed guards in every school. The opponents say new gun controls would only put law-abiding gun owners at a disadvantage against the criminals who would simply ignore the tougher laws.
Obama on Tuesday acknowledged that policymakers will never eliminate gun violence altogether. But any progress on that front, he argued, is worth the effort.
"Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. … But we were never sent here to be perfect," he said. "We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government."