President Barack Obama took the stage at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Thursday night for a rare interactive, town hall style debate on gun control.
Attended by 100 invitation-only partisans, the “Guns in America” debate was broadcast live on CNN only two days after Obama announced “a series of common-sense executive actions” to reduce gun violence. There, the 75 minute forum gave the President, who has made gun control a main issue in his last calendar year in office, an opportunity to make his case for gun control reform to households in red and blue states across the country.
Here are five things you should know from the 75-minute town hall:
- America remains divided
Of the first five questions the President fielded, three came from gun rights advocates — a rape survivor, a sheriff, and the widow of American Sniper Chris Kyle — whose stories brought emotional authenticity to the stage all in support of maintaining their Second Amendment rights. “Celebrate that we’re good people and 99.9 percent of us aren’t going to kill anyone,” Taya Kyle, widow of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whose story and consequently death by firearm at the hands of a mentally unstable man, was the foundation of the blockbuster movie “American Sniper,” told the President. Kyle penned an editorial earlier in the day saying stricter gun control “won’t protect us.”Obama acknowledged later in the evening that Americans are simply coming from different places in the gun debate: “Part of the reason, I think, that this ends up being such a difficult issue is because people occupy different realities.”
- Obama’s frustration was palpable
From the beginning, the President was clearly flustered. “Our position is consistently mischaracterized,” he said. He was sure to note that the pro-gun National Rifle Association had declined an invitation to the event — according to CNN, the NRA called the town hall “a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House — saying, “I’m happy to meet with them … But the conversation has to be based on facts and the truth and what we are proposing, not some imaginary fiction that Obama is trying to take away your guns.”
When questioned whether he was conspiring to confiscate guns, Obama became instantaneously angry snapping at the forum’s host, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. “Part of the challenge in this is that the gun debate gets wrapped up in broader debates about whether the federal government is oppressive, and there are conspiracy theories floating around the Internet these days all the time,” Obama said,
- Obama recognized some of his limitations
When asked about changing the way Americans register for guns Obama responded, “That’s an area where there’s just not enough national consensus at this stage to even consider it. And part of it is people’s concern that that becomes a prelude to taking people’s guns away. Part of the challenge of this is that the gun debate gets wrapped up in broader debates about whether the federal government is oppressive and there are conspiracy theories floating around the Internet these days all the time.” Later to another audience member he addressed his limitations to making sweeping changes, replying, “This is not a proposal to solve every problem. It is a modest way of us getting started on improving the prospects of young men and young women like you the same way we try to improve all the other aspects of our lives.”
- Obama called on Congress to help
The President called on Congress to set up a system that is “efficient” and doesn’t inconvenience lawful gun owners to create a background check system to curb illegal gun activity.
“The fact that the system doesn’t catch every single person … has to be weighed against the fact that we might be able to save a whole bunch of families from the grief that some of the people in this audience have had to go through,” the President said.
- Obama got emotional
When CNN played footage from earlier this week of the President shedding tears over the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, which left 20 children and 6 adults dead, the President admitted it was the most difficult time of his presidency.
“It’s the first time I ever saw Secret Service cry,” he recalled. “It continues to haunt me.”