April 10th, 2013
04:17 PM ET
10 years ago

Michelle Obama makes emotional entrance into gun debate

(CNN) - Returning to her hometown of Chicago Wednesday, Michelle Obama wove a deeply personal story of her upbringing in the city that also delved into the latest subject dividing Washington lawmakers – the battle over gun control.

In emotional remarks, the first lady recalled the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old who was murdered a week after performing in Washington during President Barack Obama's inauguration. Saying Pendleton "was me, and I was her," Obama reflected on the opportunities that led her to the White House instead of a similar fate.

"I had adults who pushed me, I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed, communities that supported me," she said. "A neighborhood where I felt safe. And in the end, that was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother, the first lady of the United States, and being shot dead at the age of fifteen."

MORE: Family of slain Chicago teen welcomes gun control debate

Her remarks were made at a luncheon fundraiser for a new initiative seeking to curb youth violence in Chicago. Later in the day she met with teenagers at Harper High School, where 29 students, past and present, have been shot in the past year, according to the White House. Eight of those students died.

"One of the reasons why I like to talk to kids, especially from my city, is to make sure you all know that there isn't much distance between me and you. There really is not," she told the students, saying she was visiting the high school to "do a lot of listening."

"I want to learn about what's going on in your lives, what's going on in your school, your communities. I want you to tell me what you think I need to know, to tell the president, to tell the rest of the country. So I'm really here to listen," she said in brief remarks at the beginning of her visit. The remainder of her time at Harper High was closed to the news media.

The first lady's speech and school visit came amid heated discussions in Washington over tightening gun laws nationwide, a debate prompted by the December shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. While a deal on expanding background checks emerged Wednesday, other measures – such as bans on assault weapons and large ammunition magazines – appear destined for failure.

The White House redoubled its push for tighter gun laws this week, scheduling a presidential speech Monday miles from the site of December's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder delivered remarks to law enforcement officers Tuesday.

During her address, the first lady made quick, but powerful, mention of the debate among elected officials on gun control, saying her husband "is fighting as hard as he can, and engaging as many people as he can, to pass common sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence."

"These reforms deserve a vote in Congress," she continued, repeating a call President Obama also made during his speech in Connecticut on Monday. "If there is even one thing we can do, even one step we can take to save another child or another parent from the grief that has visited families like Hadiya's and so many others here today, then don't we have an obligation to try?"

The direct reference to an ongoing legislative debate in Washington was a departure for Mrs. Obama, who as first lady has focused on core issues of children's nutrition and military veterans. Gun violence, however, is something both Obamas have said affects them personally, a fact apparent during Michelle Obama's speech Wednesday.

While her husband cited his "overwhelming grief" as a parent following the Newtown shooting in December, the first lady evoked elements of her own life growing up on Chicago's South Shore.

"I started out with the same aptitude, exactly the same emotional, intellectual capabilities as so many of my peers, and the only thing that separated me from them was I had a few more advantages than some of them did," she said.

Filed under: Gun control • Michelle Obama
soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. IvotedforObama

    Well you can forget about the gun vote now because the right wingers will really be whipped into a racial frenzy because we all know they hate her for the sin of telling kids to eat healthy and go outside and play.

    April 10, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  2. rohug

    Chicago has more firearm violence than any other major city. They also have some of the strongeest firearms regulations. Makes you wonder doesn't it! But then facts seem to not exist for liberals!

    April 10, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  3. Rob

    Disgusting woman. Nobody voted for her opinion! This couple are the most divisive politicians in the history of the US!

    April 10, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  4. BoFo

    Michelle Obama, like her husband, is nothing but a narcissistic charlatan who puts self-image above all else, and will exploit any emotional issue to get attention. Her credibility is zero, zip, nada.

    April 10, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  5. Shawn

    "I had adults who pushed me, I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed, communities that supported me"

    ~So why doesn't Chicago or the First Lady address that? There are many gun laws...

    April 10, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  6. Chris

    Are we still talking about guns? Aren't me about to engage in nuclear warfare with a crazy dictator?

    April 10, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  7. Jeff

    Please go away Michelle. First Lady Laura Bush has SO much more class than you have.

    April 10, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  8. mike

    You knew she was going to stick her ugly face into it. Did anyone give her an academy award for her tears? What a tool.

    April 10, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  9. Me

    Ok. Lets talk truth. Deaths in Iraq and Afganstand have gone up since her special needs husband took over. Most of the top Navy Seal team that lead the raid on Bin Ladin have left service because the politaical show boating which has endangered the life of there family and there selves. Now her has used his office to push his belifes even though the people do not want them and congress will not pass them by ordering the DHS to purches as many round as they can causing a shortage. Here we are a broke nation and we are spending money on stuff we do not need because he can not get his way legaly so he cheats. Now let talk about the White House. His trip to play golf with Tiger Woods could have done in D.C., say at Andrews Air Force Base. It would have save millons of tax papers money. Enough to keep the White house (The Peoples House) open to the people the rest of the year. Jan 2017 could not come sooner because no one could be worse. Well Biden could. Good help us all.

    April 10, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  10. mike

    Did she use kids as props like hubby?

    April 10, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
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