Obama, flanked by grim-faced mothers who have lost their children to guns, said Washington must do something after the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., three months ago. He called out to the families of four children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School sitting in his audience.
"Shame on us if we've forgotten," Obama said. "I haven't forgotten those kids."
Obama's event comes as gun control legislation faces an uncertain future, even though more than 80 percent of people say in polling they support expanded background checks. Backed by a $12 million TV advertising campaign financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control groups scheduled rallies around the country Thursday aimed at pressuring senators to back the effort.
Obama said the upcoming vote is the best chance in more than a decade to reduce gun violence. He encouraged Americans, especially gun owners, to press lawmakers home from a congressional spring break to "turn that heartbreak into something real."
"Don't get squishy because time has passed and it's not on the news every single day," Obama said.
Moderate Senate Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are shunning Bloomberg as a meddling outsider while stressing their allegiance to their own voters' views and to gun rights. While saying they are keeping an open mind and that they support keeping guns from criminals and people with mental disorders, some moderates are avoiding specific commitments they might regret later.
"I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans," Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.
Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable — not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.
"We have a politically savvy and a loyal voting bloc, and the politicians know that," said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA, which claims nearly 5 million paying members.
The heart of the Senate gun bill will be expanded requirements for federal background checks for gun buyers, the remaining primary proposal pushed by Obama and many Democrats since 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said there aren't enough votes to approve a ban on assault weapons, while prospects are uncertain for a prohibition on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Today, the background checks apply only to sales by the nation's roughly 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers. Not covered are private transactions like those at gun shows and online. The Senate measure is still evolving as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., use Congress' two-week recess to negotiate for additional support in both parties.
Expanding background checks to include gun show sales got 84 percent support in an Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this year. Near-universal background checks have received similar or stronger support in other national polls.
Polls in some Southern states have been comparable. March surveys by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found more than 9 in 10 people in Florida and Virginia backing expanded background checks, the same margin found by an Elon University Poll in North Carolina in February.
Analysts say people support more background checks because they consider it an extension of the existing system. That doesn't translate to unvarnished support from lawmakers, in part because the small but vocal minorities who oppose broader background checks and other gun restrictions tend to be driven voters that politicians are reluctant to alienate.
"It's probably true that intense, single-issue gun voters have been more likely to turn out than folks who want common-sense gun laws," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group that Bloomberg helps lead. Glaze, however, said he believes that voters favoring gun restrictions have become more motivated since Newtown and other recent mass shootings.
Several moderate Democrats are holding back as they assess the political landscape. They're also waiting to see exactly what the Senate will consider.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said Wednesday his state's voters tell him, "Don't take away our rights, our individual rights, our guns." Begich said he opposes a strict proposal requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales but will wait to see whether there is a bipartisan compromise he can support.
The problems faced by gun control supporters go beyond the challenge of winning over moderate Democrats. GOP opponents are sure to force Democrats to get 60 of the Senate's 100 votes to win, and there are only 53 Democrats plus two independents who generally support them.
Also targeted by Bloomberg's ads are 10 Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, home of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in a mass shooting; the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; and moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
In another indicator of hurdles facing gun control forces, the Senate voted 50-49 last week to require 60 votes for any legislation narrowing gun rights. The proposal lost because 60 votes in favor were required, but six Democrats voted for the proposal, offered by conservative Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
"It confirms there's no such thing as an easy gun vote," said Jim Kessler, a senior vice president of the centrist Democratic group Third Way.
The gun bill also increases penalties for illegal gun sales and slightly boosts aid for school safety.
More abrupt changes like an assault weapons ban generally get slight majorities in polls. Democratic leaders decided to omit it from the Senate bill because such a provision lacks enough votes.
___ AP writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.
Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist, and Trevor Lewis and Justin Williams also scored for the Kings. Jarret Stoll assisted on Lewis' goal, giving him 100 with Los Angeles.
The win gives the Kings only their second sweep of a season series against St. Louis after first doing it in 2005-06. Los Angeles has beaten the Blues eight straight times, including a 4-0 sweep in last season's Western Conference semifinals.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored both goals and Jaroslav Halak made 36 saves for the Blues, who have lost four of their last five.
Richards capitalized when Halak gave up a rebound on a soft shot. The puck went to the right side of the net, but came back in front and Richards eventually jammed it in for his 10th goal.
Williams closed the door on an empty-netter with 1:16 remaining.
Tarasenko tied it for the second time when he shoved home a puck that had drifted through Quick at 6:44 of the third period to make it 2-2. The Blues rookie had also knotted the score at 1 when he put his own rebound past Quick at 10:55 of the second period.
Lewis made it 2-1 at 12:49 of the second when he corralled a bouncing pass from Stoll to the right of the Blues' goal and sneaked a backhander past Halak.
Notes: Blues G Brian Elliott, who is 3-6-1 with a 3.56 goals against average and has not played since March 5, agreed to go to Peoria of the AHL for conditioning. Elliott led the NHL in goals against average last season (1.56) and helped the team win the Jennings Trophy. ... Anze Kopitar had an assist, giving him 22 points in his last 19 games. ... Tarasenko's first goal snapped an 0-for-12 streak on the power play for St. Louis.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his forces on standby to strike the U.S. mainland, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii.
State media say Kim "convened an urgent operation meeting" of senior generals just after midnight and signed a rocket preparation plan. The North is fuming after just yesterday, U.S. nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy munitions in joint military drills with South Korea.
And tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for a 90-minute mass rally today in support of Kim's call to arms.
The No. 4-seeded Orange won't have that element in their favor in the NCAA tournament's East Regional final.
That's because Syracuse will face a familiar foe Saturday with a Final Four berth at stake: Big East rival Marquette, the East's No. 3 seed.
"We're much better when we play teams that don't know us," Boeheim said. "Marquette knows us. They know how to play against us, so it will be very difficult."
Paced by Michael Carter-Williams' 24 points, Syracuse reached the round of eight with some dominant defense during a 61-50 victory over top-seeded Indiana in the regional semifinals Thursday night. The Orange forced 19 turnovers, blocked 10 shots, and limited the Hoosiers to 33 percent shooting while holding them to their lowest scoring output of the season.
"Our perimeter defense was tremendous," Boeheim said in an arena hallway afterward, his arms crossed across his purple tie, the way he stood for much of the lopsided game. "This is one of our best defensive teams ever. They play it well."
There's an understatement.
"In practice, it's hard to simulate how tall they really are," said Indiana's Jordan Hulls, a 6-foot senior who was at least 4 inches shorter than the players usually guarding him and went 0 for 6 on 3-point tries. "We had the right game plan. We prepared really well. But we had too many turnovers."
Three more, in fact, than shots made (16).
"Let's face facts. We haven't seen a zone like that," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "They're very good. They're where they're at for a reason."
Next up is Marquette (26-8), which beat No. 2 seed Miami 71-61 in Thursday's first game in Washington.
Syracuse (29-9), heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference this summer, lost at Marquette 74-71 during the Big East regular season on Feb. 25.
That was part of a stretch in which Syracuse lost four of five games. Since then, though, the Orange are 6-1, with the only loss coming against Louisville in the conference tournament final. In that game, Syracuse fell apart in the second half, going from a 16-point lead to trailing by 18 in a 13-minute span.
The Orange built an 18-point lead in the first half against Indiana, and while that dwindled to six early in the second half, Boeheim's squad never let it get closer than that.
The last time these two schools faced off in the NCAA tournament, Indiana won the 1987 championship on a late shot - and it took winning the 2003 national title with Carmelo Anthony for Boeheim to get over it. That decade-old group was also Syracuse's last visit to the Final Four.
Less than a half-minute into Thursday's game, as Indiana star Victor Oladipo headed to the free-throw line, the arena's overhead scoreboard showed a replay of "The Shot," as it's come to be known - Keith Smart's baseline jumper in the final seconds that lifted Bob Knight's Hoosiers past Boeheim's Orange.
Boeheim entered Thursday with 50 wins in the tournament, fourth-most in history, and more than 900 victories overall, with so much of that success built on his unusual zone defense, 40 minutes of a puzzle for opponents to try and solve.
Indiana (29-7), like most teams outside the Big East, isn't used to seeing that sort of thing, and it showed right from the outset. Didn't matter that Indiana ranked third in the country this season in scoring, putting up 79.5 points per game - and never fewer than 56 - while making 48.6 percent of its shots.
"Not too many teams are used to our zone," said Brandon Triche, who scored 14 points Thursday and whose uncle, Howard, was on Boeheim's 1987 squad. "That's what we play. Other teams that play zone, they (also) play man, they switch up defenses. But our main (thing) is zone. ... We're very long, and we're very active, and when we're active like we were today, we're hard to score on."
Cody Zeller was held to 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Oladipo scored 16 for Indiana, none easily.
"Credit them," Oladipo said, his head bowed and voice hushed. "They did a great job with their zone. They're well-coached."
Boeheim looked on calmly, occasionally resting his chin on his right fist while seated. He seemed something like an interested observer rather than active participant in the proceedings.
Sure must have liked what he saw, though.
"They never really succeeded in getting the ball in the right places," Boeheim said about the Hoosiers. "And it's not that easy, but it can be done. But they didn't know how to do that."