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Laws alone can't stop violence: Obama

April 25, 2008

In a sit-down interview with the Sun-Times, White House hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday he has been following with great concern the gun violence that has plagued the city in recent weeks.

"The news has just been heart-breaking," Obama said after a speech to union members at McCormick Place. "I've asked my staff to contact the Chicago Police Department, and I'm going to put in a call to the mayor just to find out just what is accounting for this huge uptick."

Obama said elected officials can help by restoring federal funding to put more police on the street and passing more gun-control legislation, such as better background checks for gun purchasers. But laws alone can't change things -- some parents have to get more involved in their children's lives, he said.

"Children have to be taught right and wrong, and violence isn't a way to resolve problems," Obama said. "Kids have to be kept off the streets at night. A lot of these kids, unfortunately, they might not have parents at home who are helping to give them guidance."

Obama, who had trouble with gun owners in Pennsylvania and other states, said he has never supported a blanket ban on handguns but favors letting local officials enact gun regulation appropriate for their areas. Banning guns has not always proven effective, he said.

Q&A with Obama

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama sat down with Sun-Times Political Reporter Abdon M. Pallasch on Thursday to discuss the rash of gun violence in Chicago that included the killing of five people in one house on Wednesday:

Sun-Times: Have you been following the news of all the gun deaths?

Barack Obama: The news has just been heart-breaking. I've asked my staff to contact the Chicago Police Department. and I'm going to put in a call to the mayor just to find out just what is accounting for this huge uptick.

S-T: Is there anything the federal, state, or local government can do?

B.O.: There's a bunch of things we can do. I've already said as president I want to restore [federal] COPS funding, which will put police on the streets. Additional police improves public safety. New York has seen a huge drop in crime over the last decade, more than even other cities, and part of it is they've got more cops than anybody else per capita. We've got to help local communities put more police on the streets. We want to make sure we provide state and local government with the targeting information they need, the technology they need to make sure police are going to the places most at risk for gun violence. We've got to tighten up our gun laws. I've said before we should have a much tougher background check system, one that's much more effective and make sure there aren't loopholes out there like the gun show loophole. [Or] The Tiahart Amendment [requiring destruction of gun-purchase records.] Here's an example of something common-sense: The ATF [federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] should be able to share info with local communities about where guns are coming from, tracing guns that are used in criminal activity. It's been blocked consistently in Congress. As president, I'm gong to make sure we know if guns are being sold by unscrupulous gun dealers not abiding by existing laws. We should know about that.

Finally, we've got to deal with the underlying social issues that are causing this gun violence as well. You've got gangs of young men who are lost, who are involved in the drug trade. Starting early with early childhood education, improving our K-through-12 education, having after-school programs or summer-school programs so we are providing pathways for young people to move in the right direction.

As president, we've got to be able to help local communities put those programs in place.

S-T: In Gary [Ind.,] and in Beaumont, Texas, you talked about parents doing a better job parenting. Is that applicable here?

B.O.: Absolutely. That's what I refer to when I say we've got to get to the underlying problems here. Children have to be taught right and wrong and violence isn't a way to resolve problems. Kids have to be kept off the streets at night. Transmitting those values is important. A lot of these kids unfortunately they might not have parents at home who are helping to give them guidance. Their communities themselves are wracked with violence. They're seeing it every day going down the streets. The role of the community, the churches, other institutions, instilling a different sensibility in our young people -- that's got to be part of the solution as well.

S-T: The Washington, D.C. [handgun ban] case before the U.S. Supreme Court you were asked about at the debate -- have you have a chance to look into that more?

B.O.: My view continues to be that the constitution, I believe, does provide a right to bear arms; but that local communities, and state governments, as well as the federal government, have a right to common-sense regulations and firearm ownership [rules.] The truth is, obviously, the ban here in Chicago, the ban in D.C. is not keeping the guns out of our cities, and so I'm interested in just figuring out what works and I'm confident we can come up with laws that work and that pass constitutional muster and don't infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners whether it's in Downstate Illinois or rural Montana.

S-T: As a state legislator, you voted against a bill which would let people with orders of protection [against others] carry guns and another that would have barred municipalities from punishing people who kept guns in their homes. Why?

B.O.: I felt that [the first one] was a precedent for conceal-and-carry laws. There has not been any evidence that allowing people to carry a concealed weapon is going to make anybody safer. [The second one] is relevant to the D.C. handgun issue. I wanted to preserve the right of local communities to enforce local ordinances and this would have overturned municipalities being able to enforce their own ordinances. We can argue about whether the ordinances work or not. But I wanted to make sure that local communities were recognized as having a right to regulate firearms.

S-T: But you don't want to take a stand on the D.C. gun-ban law?

B.O.: I don't like taking a stand on pending cases.