Updated 02/15/13 – 1:40 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — President Barack Obama spoke Friday to students at a South Side high school about the type of gun violence that has overshadowed his hometown and made a pitch for tighter firearms controls as well as educational and economic measures that he says could improve their safety in the long run.
The president arrived on Air Force One at O’Hare Airport around 1:25 p.m. and boarded Marine One en route to the South Side, where he spoke at Hyde Park Academy.
Obama acknowledged the violence in Chicago – 443 gun-related deaths last year — as again called for common-sense gun restrictions.
“The majority of Americans are asking for some common sense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun,” Obama said during a 24-minute speech. “There are regional differences. The experience of gun ownership is different in urban areas than it is in rural areas – different from upstate and downstate Illinois. But these proposals deserve a vote in Congress.”
The president’s visit comes more than two weeks after 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed about a mile away from Obama’s house in Kenwood, allegedly by a gang member. First lady Michelle Obama attended the teen’s funeral last weekend with other White House representatives.
“What happened to Hadiya is not unique. It’s not unique to Chicago, it’s not unique to this country. Too many of our children are being taken away from us,” the president said.
He cautioned that gun laws themselves won’t solve deeper societal problems.
“When a child opens fire on another child there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole,” Obama said.
The president said one way to create safe neighborhoods is to create strong neighborhoods. He said the nation must establish ladders of opportunity for everyone who wants to climb.
The broader remedies he proposed included encouraging marriage, teaching parenting skills to men, increasing access to preschool and improving economic conditions by raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour.
Illinois Republican Party Director Pat Brady praised the president for highlighting the issue of violence but indicated the types of initiatives Obama proposed are too expensive for the debt-strapped state.
Before speaking to hundreds of students in the school gym, Obama met in private with 20 boys who are mentored under the Becoming A Man (BAM) program.
“He just said everyone starts off at the same level. And it’s up to you to take that chance to be something in life,” Christian Champagne told CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker.
Another BAM participant, 18-year-old Lazarus Daniels, said it was hard to believe he shook hands with the president and spent time with him. Daniels says the president’s words resonated with him.
In his speech, Obama said he faced challenges as young man without a father but added he grew up in a “more forgiving” environment than some young men in Chicago are forced to deal with.
“It really put something in me, like the drive. Made me want to do more, do better,” he told CBS 2’s Mai Martinez.
Daniels’ parents were appreciative of the time Obama spent with their son.
Obama was introduced by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former congressman who served as the president’s first chief of staff. Emanuel conceded that safety is a big concern for students.