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Michelle Obama Steps Into Gun Control Debate

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Michelle Obama Steps Into Gun Control Debate

Michelle Obama Steps Into Gun Control Debate

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Today in Chicago, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a personal and emotional speech as she stepped into the debate over gun control.

(APPLAUSE)

MICHELLE OBAMA: Right now, my husband is 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.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, the first lady was in her hometown to encourage business leaders to support programs for at-risk youth.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It was just two months ago that Michelle Obama returned home to attend the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teenager who performed with her band members at inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C. Pendleton was shot in a park not far from the Obamas' Chicago home in January.

So the first lady is here to support raising $50 million for afterschool programs and other initiatives. And she talked about growing up on the South Side Chicago. She said she was like many young people in the city now except she had activities that engaged her, and she lived in a safe neighborhood.

OBAMA: And in the end, 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.

CORLEY: Chicago's murder rate declined by 42 percent during the first three months of this year, but violence continues and it's often driven by gangs. This troubled the first lady as she spoke about children who live in Chicago but have never experienced the city's museums or even seen its picturesque lakefront.

OBAMA: Because instead of spending their days enjoying the abundance of riches this city has to offer, they are consumed with watching their backs.

CORLEY: Normally, the first lady focuses on military families and childhood obesity during her speeches. But White House aides say the death Pendleton motivated her to address the issue of gun violence.

Today, the first lady met with students and counselors at Harper High School. Twenty-nine of that school's current or former students have been shot in the past year, eight of them fatally. In February, the first lady met with Pendleton's classmates.

OBAMA: And let me tell you, it is hard to know what to say to a roomful of teenagers who are about to bury their best friend. But I started by telling them that Hadiya was clearly on her way to doing something truly worthy with her life.

CORLEY: And Michelle Obama said she told those teenagers to do the same and urged the corporate leaders she spoke to to help provide the opportunities to make that happen.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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