CHICAGO -- First lady Michelle Obama made a deeply personal entrance into the gun debate yesterday, the eve of a showdown in Congress, by comparing herself to the honor student from her hometown shot to death a week after performing as a majorette in the presidential inaugural parade.
Obama told a conference on youth violence that the new gun regulations her husband proposed in response to Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deserve a vote in Congress. But she says reducing daily gun deaths in places like Chicago, with its 500 homicides last year, also will require an intensive effort by community leaders.
As part of a rare foray into a policy debate, Obama highlighted the case of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot in the back Jan. 29 while hanging out with friends at a park, about a mile from the Obamas' South Side home. The first lady attended Pendleton's funeral and said she was struck by how similar the Pendleton family seemed to her own.
"Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her," Obama said. "But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine." Obama said the only difference between herself and the young people killed on the Chicago streets is that she had a few more advantages -- involved adults, good schools, a supportive community and a safe neighborhood.
"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," Obama said, her voice gripped with emotion.
The speech was Obama's first public remarks on gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting in December took the lives of 20 students and six faculty and reignited a national debate over gun control. With the fate of the administration's efforts still uncertain, the White House was mounting an all-hands-on-deck push this week to keep the public engaged.