By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — It's a second term for Michelle Obama, too, and she's shifting her social-issues emphasis to kids and gun violence after spending four years stressing better physical fitness for the young.
A meeting with high school students from a poor, gang-infested neighborhood in Chicago, her hometown, led Mrs. Obama to put a new spin on the stalled legislative debate over whether to ban firearms or impose new background checks on people who want to buy guns.
A mother to a teen and a tween, Mrs. Obama argues that the debate also is about the country's obligation to help kids like these grow up and become adults. Several of the school's current and former students were killed by gunfire within the past year.
The first lady faces the issue of immigration Tuesday when she gives the keynote speech at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. Immigration is one of President Barack Obama's top second-term priorities.
Aides say the first lady isn't making gun violence a new and distinct issue, but is folding it into her work encouraging youth to focus on getting an education.
By reaching beyond the pair of relatively safe issues she has pushed – reducing childhood obesity and rallying public support for military families – the Harvard-trained lawyer who some say has played it safe is showing a willingness to step outside of her comfort zone.
She'll need to tread carefully, though. Americans tend to prefer that their first ladies leave the heavier policy lifting to the president.
Rosalynn Carter was criticized for attending Cabinet meetings and Hillary Rodham Clinton was pilloried for running a health care task force in secret. Mrs. Obama is viewed favorably by about two-thirds of the public, higher than her husband, who had a favorability rating of about 53 percent, according to recent polls.
Mrs. Obama fell out of public favor during the 2008 presidential campaign over comments deemed unpatriotic. But once in the White House, she declared herself "mom in chief" to her two kids, planted a vegetable garden, pushed the childhood obesity and military family issues, and resurrected her public standing.
At three fundraisers one day in May – one in Boston and two in New York, including on Park Avenue – Mrs. Obama talked about a meeting she had with some of the "best and brightest" students at Chicago's Harper High School, including the valedictorian, a star athlete and ROTC participants.
But instead of "reveling in the joys of their youth," like completing college applications, planning for the prom or getting a driver's license, she told the audiences of Democratic donors that "these young people were consumed with staying alive."
"There are so many kids in this country just like them, kids with so much promise, but so few opportunities, good kids who are doing everything they can to break the cycle and beat the odds," Mrs. Obama said. "We need to be better for them. We need to be better for all of our children in this country because they are counting on us to give them the chances they need for the futures they all deserve."
It is unclear whether Mrs. Obama will continue to speak about gun violence or immigration after the address to La Raza. The speech is one of her few remaining public events before she takes her traditional month off in August. But her words and actions on the gun issue have drawn notice.
She recently said that first ladies, more than presidents, "get to work on what we're passionate about."
"You have an opportunity to speak to your passions and to really design and be very strategic about the issues you care most about," Mrs. Obama said at a recent forum in Tanzania with African first ladies. "And I just found it just a very freeing and liberating opportunity."
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Funds For First Responders
The Obama administration will call on Congress to provide additional funding to train public and private personnel at schools to respond to active shooter situations.
Invest In School Safety Strategies
The Obama administration, through executive action, encourages school districts to use Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community while responding and assisting students in crisis.
Money For Safer & Nurturing School Climates
The Obama administration cites that with technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put evidence-based strategies to improve school climate into action. Through executive action, the administration proposes a new $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train teachers and staff to implement these strategies.
Resources For Youth Who Witness Violence
To help schools break the cycle of violence, the administration will urge Congress to provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs and other school-based violence prevention initiatives.
Incentives For Schools To Hire Resource Officers
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments that hire officers through COPS Hiring Grants by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.
Close Background Check Loopholes
The Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY2013 to give states stronger incentives to share information with the background check system. President Obama signed executive action requiring federal agencies to make crucial records available to the background check system and also to ensure that such records are frequently updated.
Boost Gun Owner Accountability & Responsibility
President Obama signed an executive action reaffirming his respect for the Second Amendment, but acknowledging that the right to bear arms comes with a responsibility to safely store guns to prevent them from being accidentally or intentionally used to harm others.
Serious Punishment For Gun Trafficking
Today, guns can be purchased easily from unlicensed dealers or from "straw purchasers" who pass the required background check, but give the guns to criminals. The Obama administration will include an explicit law against straw purchasing and others who traffic guns, including prosecutions for paperwork violations.
15,000 Cops On The Street
The Obama administration recognizes that it is crucial to keep more officers within communities and neighborhoods in order to prevent gun violence. The president calls on Congress to put forth a $4 billion proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the streets across the country.
Assault Weapons Ban
The federal assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 was a first step, but President Obama acknowledged that manufacturers were able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons. Obama is pressing Congress to introduce legislation reinstating and expanding the ban to include all assault weapons.
High-Capacity Magazine Ban
President Obama will urge Congress to reinstate the prohibition on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis. and Newtown, Conn. all used magazines that had a capacity of more than 10 rounds, which come standard with many handguns and rifles.
Remove ATF Restrictions
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is required to authorize the importation of dangerous antique weapons that are at least 50 years old. Obama will press Congress to remove restrictions and enable the ATF to ensure that incoming weapons are actually acquired as collectibles and not for putting the weapons in the wrong hands.
Broader Access To Reports On Lost & Stolen Guns
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice plans to publish an annual report on lost and stolen guns to ensure data collected by the ATF is available.
Protect Doctors Who Talk About Guns
Some have erroneously claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns and gun safety. According to Obama's executive action, the administration will issue guidance clarifying this misconception and reiterating the importance of protecting doctors who have discussions on safe storage of firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses, have young children or have a mentally ill family member at home.
Promote Responsible Gun Ownership
As declared by Obama's executive action, the administration will encourage gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe through a national campaign promoting common-sense gun safety measures.
Enhance Gun Tracing Data
Law enforcement can trace a gun's path from it's manufacturer, the dealer who sold it and its first purchaser. However, not all federal law enforcement agencies require a trace on guns they recover and keep in custody. President Obama signed executive action requiring a trace on <em>all</em> firearms.
Promote Safe Gun Safety Technology
The president is directing the attorney general through executive action to work with technology experts to review emerging gun safety technology that helps guard against unauthorized access and use.
$150 Million For In-School Resources
The Obama administration is urging Congress to take up a Comprehensive School Safety program that will offer $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire resource officers, school psychologists, social workers and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for schools that use resource officers, including age-appropriate methods for working with students.
Change School Discipline Practices
Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate or become involved in the juvenile justice system. The Obama administration believes effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Education will collect and execute best practices on school discipline policies and help schools implement these policies.
Mental Health Treatment For Youth
Through partnerships such as the newly proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), President Obama is urging Congress to take up a comprehensive plan to reach 750,000 young people through programs for early detection of mental illness and swift treatment. Project AWARE includes $15 million for training teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness.
Clarify Mental Health Coverage In Private Insurance Plans
By executive action, Obama announced a plan to finalize regulations that would require group health plans offering mental health care to cover such services at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services.
Mental Health Coverage For Medicaid Recipients
There is some evidence that Medicaid plans do not always meeting mental health parity requirements. In an executive action, the Obama administration issued a letter to state health officials insisting that these plans must comply with mental health parity requirements.