President Obama Visits Chicago to Push for Gun Reforms

Mental health reforms and universal background checks most likely to pass.

President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd as he arrives for an appearance at Hyde Park Academy, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Chicago.
By + More

Taking his State of the Union speech on the road, President Barack Obama pushed for gun control in his hometown of Chicago Friday.

The city—now run by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—has been ravaged by gun violence in recent months, though what has prompted the president into action on gun reforms was the mass killing of first-graders in Newtown, Conn., about two months ago.

[PHOTOS: Obama Pays Visit to Preschool Children]

"There was something profound and uniquely heart-breaking and tragic about a group of 6-year-olds being killed," Obama said. "But last year there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city and 65 of those victims were 18 and under; so that's the equivalent of a Newtown every four months."

While Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, proponents of new federal laws say they are ineffective in the face of more lenient laws in neighboring states, such as Indiana.

Earlier in the day, Obama honored the six educators killed at the Newtown shooting during an emotional White House ceremony.

The president has said he would like Congress to move forward on legislation that would make background checks for gun buyers universal, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a ban on so-called assault weapons.

[VIEW: The Gun Control Debate, in Plain English]

But each proposal faces varying opposition from Republicans and some Democrats despite some recent polls showing a majority of Americans support new laws.

"I wouldn't bet the farm on it going anywhere," says Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster. "This is a classic issue where intensity matters more than overall numbers and intensity is very much on the side of those who don't want their rights infringed."

Ayers says the best hope Obama has for making progress on the issue is focusing on enhanced access to mental health services rather than limiting general public access to certain weapons.

"Any proposal that has any chance has got to have a realistic shot at actually helping the problem," he says. "And it is pretty difficult to make the argument that a ban on any sort of gun prospectively will help the problem when there may be tens of thousands of similar guns already in private hands. That suggests that a focus on mental health might be more productive than a focus on a prospective ban on anything."

[READ: How to Protect Yourself in a Mass Shooting]

Though he did not mention mental health services specifically Friday, Obama spoke to the need for communities to step up and help mentor young people who are struggling.

"When a child opens fire on another child there is a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill, only community and parents, teachers and clergy can fill that hole," he said. "That means that this is not just a gun issue, it's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building and for that we all share responsibility as citizens."

It's still not obvious what lawmakers will take up in the form of gun legislation, but there is a bipartisan group working together the Senate that is reportedly closing in on a background check proposal.

[ALSO: Are Mass Shootings a Fact of Life in America?]

Ron Bonjean, a Republican political consultant, says that's likely the president's best bet for achieving any change in the status quo.

"I do think that by putting so much political capital into it, he is at risk of looking like he's failed should they not come to a result," he says. "The common denominator it seems to be gelling out there is background checks. He just has to have something to claim victory."

Bonjean says Obama's task is complicated by the fact that when it comes to Second Amendment rights, lawmakers break down along regional as well as party lines.

[READ: Sen. Ted Cruz Is 'Cruz-ing']

Obama acknowledged those regional differences, but continued to push lawmakers to at least vote on his proposals.

"I recognize not everybody agrees with every issue, there are regional differences," he said. "The experience of gun ownership is different in urban areas than it is in rural areas, different from upstate and downstate Illinois. But these proposals deserve a vote in Congress. They deserve a vote."