President Barack Obama said expanding economic opportunity is one of the ways the nation can reduce gun violence, linking two of the issues on which he’s staking his second-term agenda.
Violence in many parts of the country stems from a sense of hopelessness, Obama said yesterday in Chicago.
“In too many neighborhoods today, whether here in Chicago or the farthest reaches of rural America, it can feel like, for a lot of young people, the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town,” he said at the Hyde Park Academy, a public school about a mile from his family’s home. “This is not just a gun issue. It’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building.”
The school where the president spoke is near the park where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago student who attended Obama’s inauguration, was fatally shot Jan. 29 as she and friends sought shelter from the rain. The girl’s parents were in the Hyde Park Academy audience yesterday.
Obama cited the teenager’s death as well as the mass shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 20 first-graders and six adults dead.
“Unfortunately, what happened to Hadiya is not unique,” the president said. He again urged Congress to vote on proposals to make background checks universal for firearms sales and for bans on military-style semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, who attended this week’s State of the Union address as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama, released an yesterday urging U.S. lawmakers to act to curb gun violence. The ad was funded by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group whose co-chairman is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Before delivering his remarks, Obama spoke privately about gun violence with a group of 16 students enrolled in an anti-violence mentoring program for at-risk men.
Chicago had 506 homicides in 2012, the most in four years, and is on pace to match that number again. By comparison, New York City, with a population about three times larger, had 419 homicides.
Obama said Chicago’s rate of youth casualties from firearms has been “the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.”
He said his proposals to expand preschool access and raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour will create for poorer children “ladders of opportunity they can climb into the middle class and beyond, and most importantly keeping them safe from harm.”
Likewise, Obama said, “It’s very hard to develop economically if people don’t feel safe. Commerce dries up.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with the president on Air Force One, told reporters that while “there are important steps we can take as a country to keep guns out of the wrong hands and get weapons of war off the street,” Obama also believes, “It’s not enough to debate the role of government in reducing violence.”
“It’s up to parents, teachers, principals, neighbors and communities as a whole to make a difference in the lives of our young people and steer them away from a life of gang violence and toward the classroom,” Earnest said.
Obama yesterday was highlighting his proposal to put pilot programs in 20 communities to coordinate federal, state and private-sector investments aimed at reviving areas hardest hit by the recession that ended in June 2009.
The Chicago visit follows trips by Obama to Decatur, Georgia, and Asheville, North Carolina, this week to promote the programs he outlined in his State of the Union address. In those cities, Obama highlighted proposals to create manufacturing innovation centers and establishing universal access to pre-kindergarten education.
The administration hasn’t put a price tag on Obama’s proposals, leaving that to the budget he will submit to Congress by mid-March. Obama in his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 12 promised they wouldn’t increase the U.S. deficit “by a single dime.”
Republicans, such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have expressed skepticism about Obama’s plans and promised to oppose new spending.
The White House and congressional Republicans already are at an impasse over how to avoid a March 1 deadline for $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to begin taking effect.