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First lady Michelle Obama talks to students at Harper High School in Chicago, Wednesday.

Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune via AP

First lady steps into gun debate

  • Article by: Philip Rucker
  • Washington Post
  • April 10, 2013 - 9:21 PM

 – First Lady Michelle Obama, with tears in her eyes and her voice cracking, spoke out for the first time here Wednesday about the gun violence afflicting young people in cities across the nation.

She took a rare step for any first lady into the legislative fight of the hour, saying her husband, President Obama, 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 said, drawing applause from hundreds of Chicago’s business executives and civic leaders who were gathered at a luncheon to raise money for a new anti-violence initiative.

Obama spoke emotionally about attending the funeral in February of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old majorette who was shot in a city park not far from the Obamas’ Chicago house and just days after attending President Obama’s inauguration ceremonies. She drew parallels to her own childhood in the 1970s on the South Side of Chicago. “In the end, that was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother and first lady of the United States and being shot dead at the age of 15,” she said.

She described a tale of two Chicagos, lamenting that many children who live in the impoverished South Side have never visited the Art Institute or seen Lake Michigan. She said, “Instead of spending their days enjoying the abundance of riches this city has to offer, they are consumed with watching their backs. They are afraid to walk alone because they might be jumped.”

Her aides described her new focus as part of a broader agenda on youth opportunity and empowerment.

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