President Obama on Friday underlined his call for Congress to allow a vote on gun control by traveling to Chicago, his hometown and the city with the second-highest murder rate in the country.
“Too many of our children are being taken away from us,” Obama said in an intensely personal speech delivered in his old neighborhood that focused on the concerns of the urban poor.
Obama discussed the hardships of being raised by a single mom and the importance of fatherhood, and his speech included nods to gun control and other proposals from his State of the Union address meant to help the poor move up to middle-class lives.
Speaking in Hyde Park, where a 17-year-old was recently gunned down just days after performing at his inauguration, Obama said that no law or set of laws “can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.”
And he emphasized putting forth as much focus on the social aspects of communities, saying that this is “not just a gun issue.”
“When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill, only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole,” he said, speaking before students, faculty and community leaders. “There are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don’t see an example of somebody succeeding. For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected.”
Obama acknowledged the obstacles before him in pushing for gun-control, which is seen in dramatically different lights in different parts of the country.
“The experience of gun ownership is different in urban areas than it is in rural areas,” Obama said. “But these proposals deserve a vote in Congress. They deserve a vote.
“We all share a responsibility as citizens to fix it,” he added.
Obama’s proposals include expanded background checks and bans on certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity clips. He made an impassioned plea for a vote the dramatic conclusion of his State of the Union address, which was attended by many victims of gun violence, including the parents of the teenager slain in Chicago a week after performing at his inauguration.
It is unclear whether floor votes on some of Obama’s proposals will be offered in the Senate, where much of the debate is expected to take. Many Democrats in addition to Republicans have been cool to proposals to restrict high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons.
Broadening his message, Obama called on the nation to do more to “promote marriage” and “encourage fatherhood.” Sending a message to men, he said bluntly, “What makes you a man is not the ability to make a child, it’s the courage to raise one.” And he called for reform on child support laws to get more men “engaged” with their children.
Obama showed an empathetic side to being raised without a father when he was growing up.
“Don’t get me wrong, as the son of a single mom…I turned out okay,” he said. “But at the same time, I wish I had had a father around who was involved and around. Loving and supportive parents…those parents supporting kids, that’s the single most important thing. Unconditional love for your child. That makes a difference.”
Obama also highlighted some of the economic proposals from his State of the Union address. He once again called for an increase in minimum wage to nine dollars, a move he said would help raise the quality of life in communities.
Before his remarks, Obama participated in a roundtable discussion with students enrolled in a youth anti-violence program. White House aide say the program includes counseling, mentoring, violence protection and an educational enrichment program which promotes social, emotional and behavioral growth for at-risk young men.
Earlier in the day at the White House, an emotional Obama wiped away tears at an event where he awarded the nation’s second-highest civilian honor to the six educators killed in the December shooting in Newtown, Conn.
In his remarks on Friday, Obama acknowledged the obstacles that lay before him.
“No solution will be perfect,” says the president, “but perfection not our goal.”