Obama: Urban violence "not just a gun issue"

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at Hyde Park Academy on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Chicago. Obama is traveling to promote the economic and educational plan he laid out in his State of the Union address. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

In an unusually personal speech not far from his Chicago home, President Obama today reiterated his ongoing call for Congress to pass laws aimed at reducing gun violence in America. But the president, invoking his personal history and his relationship with his father, also stressed the need for parents and communities to combat gun violence from the ground up -- "neighborhood by neighborhood" and "one block by one block" - to fight overarching issues related to urban poverty and violence.

The president, speaking at the Hyde Park Academy in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood, lamented the losses in Newtown, Conn., in December, and remarked on the "profound and uniquely heartbreaking" fact that 20 of the victims were six years old.

But he also pointed out that "last year, there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city, and 65 of those victims were 18 and under."

"That's an equivalent of a Newtown every four months," he said.

In the ongoing national conversation about gun violence post-Newtown, the president and his administration have been persistent in their acknowledgement of the everyday gun violence that takes place in cities across the country.

Mr. Obama focused heavily on the issue in his remarks this afternoon, touching briefly on the need for federal legislation before launching into a discussion about community and -- invoking his own experience -- family.

"In too many neighborhoods today... it can feel like, for a lot of young people, the future only extends to the next street corner," he said. "There are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don't see an example of somebody succeeding. For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see examples of fathers and grandfathers... who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected."

"That means that this is not just a gun issue," he continued. "It's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building."

"It's very hard to develop economically if people don't feel safe," he added.

The president, who speaks often of his relationship with his mother, as well as with his wife and children, argued that "there's no more important ingredient to success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence, than strong stable families."

That means, he said, enlisting community leaders to help build strong economies, improving the quality and accessibility of education and job training for students of all ages, and raising the minimum wage. He also said America needs to be doing more "to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood."

"Don't get me wrong. As the son of a single mom who gave everything she had to raise me... I turned out ok," Mr. Obama said. "We've got single moms out here, they're heroic, what they're doing, and we are so proud of them. But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved."

Reflecting on his own history as a community organizer on Chicago's south side, Mr. Obama acknowledged the difficulties of pursuing change in communities riddled with crime and poverty.

"It wasn't easy. Progress didn't come quickly. Sometimes I got so discouraged I thought about just giving up," he said. "But what kept me going was the belief that with enough determination and effort, persistence and perseverance, change is always possible. That we may not be able to help everybody but if we help a few then that propels progress forward."

If communities pursue change with that kind of persistence, he argued, "we will write the next great chapter in American history."

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