ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As President Obama unveiled his gun control proposals today, he highlighted mass shootings at schools in Colorado, Virginia and Connecticut. But he also mentioned another group of children, not in schools, but he said on the street corners of Chicago. More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago last year, many of them teenagers or young adults who were killed with a gun.
As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, many in the city are counting on the president to bring that number down.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Raise your right hand and repeat after me.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: A few hours after President Obama outlined his gun measures, Chicago police officers, outfitted in dress blues, filled an assembly hall for a graduation. The department's top brass congratulated the police recruits joining the department. Leading the event was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the point man for President Clinton's push for gun control in the 1990s and more recently President Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel noted that the class was graduating the same day the president was offering them more tools to fight crime.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: We're only as good as we have a comprehensive strategy about putting more police on the street and getting kids, guns and drugs off the street.
CORLEY: Chicagoan Annette Holt was at the White House during President Obama's address. Her teenage son, Blair, was shot to death five years ago on a Chicago bus when he shielded a fellow student from a spray of bullets.
ANNETTE HOLT: I think I've been waiting on this day since my son was killed. After we buried him, we've been on a mission to change what happens to young people, especially in the city of Chicago, because we don't want other parents to be like us.
CORLEY: Every year, the Chicago Police Department seizes more guns than any other police department in the United States - more than 7,400 guns last year. Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says nearly 300 guns have been collected so far this year. A minority of them are assault weapons. But McCarthy has consistently called for banning those weapons and says the president is right to try that.
GARRY MCCARTHY: I submit that assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are military-grade weapons that do not have a place in our society, except for in the military.
CORLEY: Activists like Colleen Daley with the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence says the Obama measures also address an enduring problem for the city, the widespread sale of handguns.
COLLEEN DALEY: We're thrilled.
CORLEY: Daley says the group's number one priority has been making sure there's a background check for the sale of every single gun.
DALEY: We have 120,000 mental health records in the state of Illinois that have not been put in the federal background check system. That's not due to lack of effort to do it. There hasn't been funding there.
CORLEY: Harold Pollack with the Chicago Crime Lab was encouraged by the proposals too. He's one of several researchers who asked the president to loosen restrictions so researchers would be able to collect more data about guns and homicides.
HAROLD POLLACK: We need to investigate when a violent incident occurs to see if there are common patterns, you know, with other kinds of violent acts. And there's just a number of things where we have not been able to deploy the full force of the research enterprise, of the public health enterprise, to really attack gun violence with the seriousness that this subject deserves.
CORLEY: If there is anything that can help to reduce the number of gang-related shootings in Chicago, says Tio Hardiman, it's a more scientific approach. Hardiman is the head of Illinois CeaseFire, where former gang members work to intervene in tense situations. Hardiman says he's pleased with the Obama measures but thinks there still needs to be a greater push to treat Chicago violence like an epidemic.
TIO HARDIMAN: Some of the guys that shoot and kill people on the streets of Chicago, their behavior is condoned by their peers. I've heard people say: Look, I'm going to be with you whether you're right or wrong.
CORLEY: And perhaps mindful that's an attitude in some city neighborhoods where guns and gangs prevail, Chicago Mayor Emanuel plans to present a set of his own gun measures to the city council tomorrow. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.