US President Barack Obama on Friday returned to his hometown of Chicago to bemoan the epidemic of murderous gun violence that took 443 lives in the city last year.
Obama, speaking less than a mile from his house, said that “senseless” gun violence showed the urgency for the US Congress to pass his package of gun control reforms, which include a proposal to renew a ban on assault weapons.
He remembered the massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, less than two months ago, which he described as “uniquely heartbreaking,” but said that lives were being ruined by rampant gun violence happening every day.
“Last year there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city. Sixty-five of those victims were 18 and under,” Obama said at a public school in his Hyde Park neighborhood.
“That’s an equivalent of a Newtown every four months. That’s why these proposals deserve a vote in Congress, they deserve a vote,” Obama said.
In a speech also focusing on proposals made in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama vowed to give the middle class an economic ladder to success and warned no set of laws could stop all gun violence.
“When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only communities and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole,” Obama said.
The president’s proposals to cut gun violence including the assault weapons ban, limits on the size of fast-firing high-capacity ammunition clips and closing loopholes in background checks are awaiting their fate in the US Congress.
Many observers believe that the assault weapons ban will not have sufficient support, but White House officials believe that significant portions of the president’s plans will eventually be enacted.
The effort is facing significant opposition from the National Rifle Association gun lobby group, Republicans and some Democrats from conservative states who fear the electoral consequences of a vote to curb guns.
Obama spoke close to the spot where Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who performed at his inauguration last month was gunned down, after apparently being mistaken for a gang member.
Before leaving for Chicago, Obama honored teachers and staff killed alongside the children they tried to save at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Teachers Dawn Hochsprung, Lauren Rousseau, Victoria Soto and Rachel Davino, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and teaching assistant Anne Marie Murphy died when gunman Adam Lanza went on a rampage at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.
They were represented at a ceremony at the White House by relatives as Obama posthumously awarded them the Presidential Citizens Medal, the US’ second-highest civilian honor.
Obama praised the heroism of the slain teachers and hugged their grief-stricken relatives.
“I’ve gotten to know many of you during the course of some very difficult weeks, and your courage and love for each other and your communities shines through every single day,” Obama said. “We could not be more blessed and grateful for your loved ones who gave everything they had on behalf of our kids.”