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. freedom

    I have one word for you – Michelle – AGENDA ! We can see right through it. Open the White House doors – that house does not belong to you.

    April 10, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. papanez

    Mrs. Obama and this president are attempting to make common-sense changes to gun laws to try and keep our citizens safe from these random, thoughtless murders and you, freedom, can only ask that tours continue at the White House. Typical drivel from the mindless.

    April 10, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  3. Bubba

    Michelle go back to your garden and leave the real work to us men folks.

    April 10, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  4. Tag

    She wouldn't have said what she said IF she didn't have someone write the garbage for her! Why not admit she LOST her license to practice LAW!! Tell it like it is instead of the hyperbole you always spout!!!

    April 10, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  5. max3333444555

    its the msnbc promo in different words

    April 10, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  6. plain&simple

    When the NRA says changes to the gun laws won't stop the next shooting....how do they know what it will do? They have a crystal ball. It won't stop ALL the shootings!!! It just may save someone's life. So think before you speak nonsense.

    April 10, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  7. Tag

    You state comments are NOT prescreened before they post, and that is totally untrue – I'm sitting here looking at one that 'is awaiting moderation' – so much baloney from CNN!!!

    April 10, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. freedom


    The mindless have been manipulated by this destructive president and his wife. Common-sense changes? Taking your rights away that are clearly stated in the 2nd Amendment. Translation: AGENDA
    And yes, the White House doors closed to the American people is also a violation to the taxpayers – WE pay for that house. That is not drivel.

    April 10, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. Catmandew

    We do need some common sense reform but I am not sure if it should be gun reform or mental reform. We needs to keep guns out of the wrong hands! Remember a gun will just lay there till a wacko pulls the trigger. I also think it is still too quick after Newtown shootings to be constructive or realistic. I also believe this is a state issue not a federal one! Obama is making progress tho I think he shouldn't be in this debate.

    April 10, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  10. Robbie Mock

    PAPANEZ... criminals do NOT follow laws.. they can make all the gun laws they want and pass them.. the criminals will NOT obey them. They are taking away law abiding citizens freedoms little by little and people like you are letting them. When you get mugged or robbed.. don't call the cops.. they have guns.. for the time being.

    April 10, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. JohnRJohnson

    The comments here are sickening. Why don't you people go back to RedState and spew your hatred.

    April 10, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  12. DC Observer

    These are not reforms; this is political gravy. Until Michelle starts talking mental health then no reforms will do much of anything...

    April 10, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  13. DC Observer

    The states should deal with this issue as they deem appropriate. This is not a federal issue and the government should stay out of it

    April 10, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  14. Lynda/Minnesota

    "And yes, the White House doors closed to the American people is also a violation to the taxpayers – WE pay for that house. That is not drivel."

    Oh, freedom, freedom, freedom.
    Your talking points are ALWAYS drivel.

    April 10, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  15. Mike, NY

    I totally back the NRA and its supporters: Let's arm the teachers and professors with rpg's, rk-47, buschmasters, same for the kids, the guys outside in the ice cream truck, the parents, and the babysitters. There might be some side effects to this solution, but hey, it's a small price to pay to satisfy the thirst of freedom of going hunting on a full stomach. Viva la libertad !! ahhhh (nutjobs)

    April 10, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  16. Liberalist

    the government need to do what michelle say and ban guns-i'm tired of all these shootings with guns. the government should stop all gun sales right now.

    April 10, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  17. Joe

    Mrs. Hussein Obama, release your bodyguards and your daughters' body guards at their school and we will lay down our weapons. EXACTLY!

    April 10, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  18. Fubarack

    The Obama's can't fix their own town, with their own party, people, and gun laws in place. It's because it is not a gun or gun law issue. The gang bangers don't notice the strict laws they have now.

    April 10, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  19. Whickersham

    Hey "Bubba"

    "Michelle go back to your garden and leave the real work to us men folks"

    Stick hunting and dating your sister. Please leave the politics to those who know how to act like they have common sense.

    April 10, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  20. Marcus Takatoa

    Chicago's youth isn't being threatened because of a lack of gun control but rather a lack of good parenting.

    April 10, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  21. LS23

    So sick of hearing about 2nd Amendment rights being taking away. Nobody is trying to do that. Common sense people! Stop the hysteria.

    April 10, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  22. jpayne

    Why don't we put abortion on the table too! It's funny how liberals are so worried about children but when abortion comes up it's all about the womans choice. Can't have it both ways?

    April 10, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  23. Donna

    But Chicago had gone so far as to outlaw handguns in the possession of law abiding citizens. And they STILL had astronomical murder rates! When are these moronic leftists and Democrats goingto get it through their thick heads? Disarming law abiding citizens and creating massive pools of defenseless victims will NOT end the killing! CRIMINALS LOVE THIS! It guarantees them they will never encounter resistance in their endless mission of attacking law abiding citizens.

    Maybe Michelle should go live alone in the projects of Chicago, surrounded by armed drug gangs, totally defenseless and unarmed. Go on Michelle! Experience the life you want to force on everybody and see how you like it. And leave the Secret Service in Washington. JUST YOU, and the armed gangs. Report back... if you survive.

    April 10, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  24. joe

    One of america's ugliest and biggest wagon chasers... Fix you teeth and go on a diet.

    April 10, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  25. Thomas

    Yeah, because the gang bangers that shot that girl really give a damn what you or your husband say about gun control. We have sequestration in effect and these jokers are wasting money on debating gun laws. Why not tell us what really happened with the Benghazi thing instead?

    April 10, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
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