Obama support for gun control has roots in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — 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


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


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.

Gun control was not on Obama's agenda in his

first term as president. But now, at the start of his second term,

Obama is seizing

an opportunity to act that emerged from national outrage over 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


"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.

Earlier Friday at the White House, Obama

honored the six educators killed in the Connecticut shooting by

presenting the Presidential

Citizens Medal to their families. "They gave their lives to

protect the precious children in their care," Obama said.

In Chicago, Obama mourned the death of Pendleton, whose funeral Michelle Obama had attended. "Unfortunately, what happened

to Hadiya's not unique," the president said. "It's not unique to Chicago, it's not unique to this country. Too many of our

children are being taken away from us."

Critics of Obama's effort note that

Chicago's spike in homicides offers evidence gun restrictions don't

work. The city prohibited

handguns until a 2010 Supreme Court ruling threw out the ban.

Chicago then adopted a strict gun ordinance that requires gun

owners to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check, pass a

training class and pay fees that can be higher than the price

of the weapons. Still, the city's homicide rate rose to more than

500 last year.

Gun control proponents say Chicago

illustrates the need for tougher restrictions nationally because guns

are coming from outside

the city. Statistics show that more than half of the guns seized

by Chicago police in the last 12 years came from other states.

A University of Chicago study found that more than 1,300 guns

confiscated by police since 2008 were purchased at a single

store just outside city limits. More than 270 were used in crimes.

Violence has long been a problem in Chicago,

a city the president represented for eight years in the state Senate

while building

a record of voting for gun control. He invoked the ire of gun

rights advocates when he voted against a measure that would

have exempted prosecution of people who fire guns to fend off home

invaders, inspired by a man who shot an intruder who repeatedly

broke into his home.

"It became very obvious he was not going to

be one of our guys," said Richard Pearson, president of the Illinois

State Rifle

Association. He said it wasn't that surprising, given the city

that Obama represented. "You're not allowed to be a politician

from Chicago and support gun rights," Pearson said with a laugh.

In 1999, Obama made his first run for

national office by entering the Democratic primary race for Congress

against incumbent

Rep. Bobby Rush. In October 1999, Rush's son was fatally shot by

drug dealers outside his home, and Obama suspended his campaign

for a month.

That December, Obama announced he would push

federal gun legislation that goes far beyond than what he is proposing

now. It

would have limited gun purchases to one a month, banned the sale

of firearms other than antiques at gun shows, limited the

sale of guns to adults over 21 who took a training course and

increased gun licensing fees. He also would have increased the

penalties on gun runners and brought a felony charge against

owners who didn't lock up firearms that were later stolen and

used in a crime.

He announced the antigun plan near the home of an 84-year-old woman killed when several young men invaded her home mistakenly

believing she won the lottery.

But Obama went to his native Hawaii for the

Christmas holiday to see his grandmother and spend time with his wife

and then

18-month-old daughter, Malia. He wrote in his autobiography "The

Audacity of Hope" about how the Legislature was called back

into special session while he was gone, but Malia was sick and

unable to fly home.

"I got off the redeye at O'Hare Airport, a

wailing baby in tow, Michelle not speaking to me, and was greeted by a

front page

story in the Chicago Tribune indicating that the gun bill had

fallen a few votes short, and that state senator and congressional

candidate Obama 'had decided to remain on vacation' in Hawaii,"

Obama wrote. "My campaign manager called, mentioning the potential

ad the congressman might be running soon — palm trees, a man in a

beach chair and straw hat sipping a mai tai, a slack key

guitar being strummed softly in the background, the voice-over

explaining, 'While Chicago suffered the highest murder rate

in its history, Barack Obama...'

"I stopped him there, having gotten the idea," Obama continued. "And so, less than halfway into the campaign, I knew in my

bones that I was going to lose."

It would be his only loss. Obama went on to win the U.S. Senate race in 2004 and then the presidency just four years later.

He brought Rush along on Air Force One on Friday when he flew home.