CHICAGO — Once again, Chicago's gun violence problem was put in the national spotlight as President Barack Obama discussed gun control initiatives that he said could save lives.
A town hall-style meeting Thursday night, moderated by CNN in Fairfax, Va., included both gun control and gun rights advocates. Obama fielded questions from audience members , including passionate voices from Chicago advocating for stricter gun control such as the Rev. Michael Pfleger, and relatives of people killed with guns, including Cleo Pendleton (the mother of Hadiya Pendleton) and Tre Bosley (a brother of Terrell Bosley).
Shootings in Chicago sometimes happened "just a few blocks from my house — and I live in a reasonably good neighborhood," he said.
The president announced Tuesday in a tearful press conference that he would strengthen enforcement of gun laws, expand background checks within existing laws, and seek more money for mental health care, among other measures. But critics said the initiatives would not prevent gun deaths and that they would restrict people's lawful access to guns.
Chicago's struggle with gun violence became a recurring theme throughout the CNN broadcast of the town hall meeting. Though police say that overall crime rates are down, homicides and shootings both spiked by 11 percent in 2015 compared to 2014 — leaving 468 people dead in the city.
Obama used examples from Chicago to describe how expanded background checks could keep guns out of the hands of criminals, although his critics pointed out that most criminals do not acquire guns legally.
The president said that expanded background checks would ensure that if someone buys a gun legally at an Indiana gun show, for instance, and then sells it to criminals, that person could be more easily found and prosecuted. In October, a "gunrunner" allegedly doing that was charged after an undercover investigation.
Obama also said he wanted to expand the budget of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms so agents could more adequately track down these "straw purchasers."
Though Obama said, "I couldn't be prouder of my city," he added that "every week there's a story about a young person getting shot." in Chicago.
"Some are gang members and it's turf battles, sometimes it's innocent victims," he said.
Obama said talking to families of gun victims, such as the Pendletons and Bosleys, has informed the way he views gun control, in addition to his experiences speaking with gun owners in Iowa and other places where weapons are used legally for protection.
In an emotional moment, Tre Bosley, whose older brother Terrell was gunned down in 2006 outside a church at 116th and Halsted streets, asked the president what advice he would give to "a young black teen surrounded by not only gun violence but police brutality, where most of us are not looking at life in the long-term scale, but hour-to-hour, and some minute-to-minute."
The president responded that he should "continue to be an outstanding role model" and to know that high school peer pressure would not matter in the long run, as long as he focused on his future.
Obama also pointed out that gun control would not only save the lives of young black and brown people in the inner city, but that since two-thirds of gun deaths nationwide are suicides — mostly among young white people — that gun control was a matter of importance to all Americans.
He added that improving safety in inner city communities would take more than just gun control, and that "we should be investing in communities, education, job opportunities," which drew applause from the crowd.
Obama said that "It used to be that parents would see some kids messing around on the corner, and they'd say, 'yo,' even if they weren't the parent of those children, 'go back inside. Stop doing that.'"
"And over time, it was a lot harder to discipline somebody else's kid and have the community maintain order, or talk to police officers if somebody's doing something wrong, because now somebody is worried about getting shot.
"And if we can create an environment that's just a little bit safer for -- in those communities, that will help. And if it doesn't infringe on your Second Amendment rights, and it doesn't infringe on your Second Amendment rights, and you're still able to get a firearm for your protection, why wouldn't we want to do that?" the president said.
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