President Barack Obama addresses education, gun violence in Urban League speech

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In one of his most expansive responses yet to gun crime, President Barack Obama on Wednesday embraced some degree of control on the sale of weapons but said he would also seek a national consensus on combating violence. He said responsibility for curtailing bloodshed also rests with parents, neighbors and teachers to ensure that young people “do not have that void inside them.”

Speaking just six days after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead, Obama pledged to work with lawmakers of both parties to stop violence, not only the sudden massacres that have bedeviled the nation, but the steady drip of urban crime that has cost many young lives.

“We should leave no stone unturned and recognize that we have no greater mission that keeping our young people safe,” Obama said in a speech to the National Urban League.

Obama called for stepped-up background checks for people who want to purchase guns and restrictions to keep mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons. He says those steps “shouldn’t be controversial, they should be common sense.”

But he also added: “We must also understand that when a child opens fire on other children, there’s a hole in his heart that no government can fill.”

Obama’s speech represented a bookend to a four-day trip that began in Colorado on Saturday when he visited with survivors of the theater massacre.

For Obama, the address to the National Urban League was a necessary overture to a voting bloc that overwhelmingly backs him but that has sustained much of the brunt of the economic downturn.

In his speech Obama promoted his economic and health care policies, tailoring what has become a standard campaign speech to his African-American audience. He drew attention to initiatives that have helped Americans in general, and African-Americans in particular.

But, as he did during his 2008 campaign, he also pressed personal responsibility.

He said young Americans are competing against kids in Beijing and Bangalore. “You know, they’re not hanging out … they’re not playing video games, they’re not watching ‘Real Housewives,'” he said. “I’m just saying. It’s a two-way street. You’ve got to earn success.”

Ahead of Obama’s remarks, the Urban League played a video showing photos of famous African-Americans that culminated with images of the president and his family the night of the 2008 election. The crowd of several thousand responded with thunderous applause that was sustained as Obama walked on stage and peppered with chants of “four more years.”

Obama spoke on the same day that the Senate gave him a political victory by passing an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for households with less than $250,000 in earnings. The president has made retaining current tax rates for middle-class taxpayers a central piece of his economic policy while rejecting Republican efforts to extend the current tax rates for all. Under Obama’s plan, taxes for wealthier Americans would rise. The Senate measure, however, was expected to go no further because of the Republican-dominated House.

While enthusiasm among some Obama supporters has faded since 2008, support for America’s first black president remains high among African-Americans. In a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 82 percent of black adults said they would vote for Obama. His approval rating among blacks was 87 percent.

Obama skipped an appearance at the NAACP earlier this month, raising questions about whether his campaign was taking black voters for granted. The White House blamed a scheduling conflict and sent Vice President Joe Biden to address the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney also addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, raising eyebrows when he told the crowd: “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.”

Obama announced that he would sign an executive order on Thursday that creates a new office to bolster the education of African-American students. The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that these youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama also was raised campaign money at two separate stops in New Orleans: an intimate 20-person event at the cost of $25,000 per person, and a larger event at the House of Blues for 400 people, with tickets starting at $250.

Obama raised at least $6 million at events this week in California, Oregon and Washington. The president started the trip Sunday with a stop in Colorado to meet with survivors and families of the victims of last week’s movie theater massacre.


Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.