President Barack Obama has adopted a new style of governing for his second term in the White House: Get with the program – or get out of the way.
It’s a refreshing change from his conciliatory approach to Congress in previous years. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Obama is using his White House bully pulpit to push for tougher gun control legislation that calls for strict background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons. He’s not pleading with Congress to act on his suggestions; he’s demanding that Congress move forward to keep America safe.
For the first time in a State of the Union address, Obama moved beyond gun control: He shined a bright light on urban gun violence in America which has been neglected by Capitol Hill legislators for decades. Much of mainstream society has ignored crime in inner cities, and, let’s be real, black folks generally don’t like to discuss the root causes of black-on-black crime either.
By inviting Cleopatra and Nathaniel Pendleton as guests in the First Lady’s box for the president’s address, Obama brought the issue of urban gun violence to the national stage and skillfully linked his gun control lobbying to inner city crime.
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old,” the president said Tuesday in the most emotional part of his State of the Union address. “She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” Obama said. “They deserve a vote.”
Last weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama attended Pendelton’s funeral in Chicago and although she didn’t say a word at the funeral, her presence spoke volumes.
On Friday, the president will travel to his hometown of Chicago to talk more about gun control at a time when police have charged two black gang members with Pendleton’s murder. One of the suspects confessed, saying Pendleton was not the intended target.
Pendleton’s death clearly struck a nerve: The Obamas are from Chicago and they have two daughters, Sasha, 11 and Malia, 14.
“Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children,” Obama said. “It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different.”
“Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun,” Obama said. “Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.”
Chicago’s homicide rate skyrocketed to 500 last year for the first time since 2008. The crime wave is spiraling out of control so fast that some law enforcers claim that Americans have a greater chance of being killed in Chicago than U.S. troops do in Afghanistan.
Some black civil rights activists have urged Obama to speak out about the rising homicides in urban centers like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee. Twelve people have already been murdered in Chicago this year, which could put Chicago on pace for more homicides in one year since 1977.
It’s mostly gang violence in Chicago – and its black men pulling the triggers.
And while Chicago police say they have already confiscated 180 guns so far in 2013, Obama wants even stricter gun control laws.
“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” Obama said. “Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.”
“But we were never sent here to be perfect,” the president added. “We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country.”
The president is challenging Congress to enact tougher gun control legislation and I’m pleased that Obama emphasized his concern about urban gun violence and his sorrow for a black family in his address to the nation.