First Lady Michelle Obama returned to her murder-plagued hometown Wednesday to make an emotional plea for strengthening US gun laws, saying she too could have been a victim of brutal street violence while growing up.
Making a rare direct foray into the domestic policy debate, Obama held back tears as she recalled a young black Chicagoan named Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead one week after performing in President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.
As she urged lawmakers and city officials to find constructive ways to combat youth bloodshed, Mrs. Obama mentioned how, when attending the 15-year-old’s funeral with the Pendleton family, “I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me.”
“Because what I realized is that… Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” Obama said as she held back tears.
“But I got to grow up, and go to Princeton and to Harvard Law School, and have a family and the most blessed life I could imagine. And Hadiya… we know that story.”
Obama recalled how a city school teacher told her about students who walk down the middle of the street after school, defying traffic, because it was the best way to avoid the shootings that have become all-too-common in some Chicago neighborhoods.
“I’m not talking about something that is happening in a war zone halfway around the world,” she said. “I’m talking about what’s happening in the city that we call home.”
The first lady said President Obama was “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.”
It is rare that first ladies engage so deeply in the nation’s political discourse. Hillary Clinton was widely criticized in the early 1990s for her role in trying to reform health care while husband Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office.
Michelle Obama’s plea came shortly after Senate Democrats and Republicans announced a compromise deal on extending background checks to all commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows and on the Internet.
The White House had sought a similar but more-comprehensive, universal background check measure in the wake of the Newtown school massacre in December.
The legislation must pass the Senate and the House before it becomes law.