President Barack Obama engaged in a spirited an enlightening debate on gun control Thursday night, often with members of a CNN audience who disagreed with his views on the issue.
Obama verbally tussled with opponents of his executive action on guns earlier this week during a town-hall event moderated by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
He received questions from the widow of a former US Navy SEAL who was shot dead at a shooting range, a rape survivor, and a Republican sheriff from Arizona running for a seat in Congress.
Taya Kyle was the first member of the audience to ask Obama a question. Kyle is the widow of Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL whose life as the “most lethal sniper” in US history was detailed in the film, “American Sniper.” Chris Kyle was killed when he was shot at a shooting range by a former US Marine.
Tara Kyle questioned whether Obama’s actions would prevent the occurrence of shooting deaths in the US. She asked why he didn’t choose to provide “hope” to the American people in a different way — for example, noting that the rate of violent crime in the US has dipped to its lowest level in more than three decades.
“I understand that background checks aren’t necessarily going to stop me from getting a gun, but I also know that they wouldn’t have stopped any of the people here in this room from killing. And so it seems like almost a false sense of hope,” she said. “So why not celebrate where we are?”
Obama told Kyle that she was correct about the decline of violent crime. But in his answer, Obama compared further steps on gun control to making car travel safer, even in the face of declining traffic deaths.
“In the same way that we don’t eliminate all traffic accidents, but, over the course of 20 years, traffic accidents get lower — there’s still tragedies. There’s still drunk drivers. There’s still people who don’t wear their seat belts, but over time, that violence was reduced, and so families are spared,” Obama said.
“That’s the same thing that we can do with gun ownership,” he continued. “There is a way for us to set up a system where you, a responsible gun owner … can have a firearm to protect yourself, but where it is much harder for somebody to fill up a car with guns and sell them to 13-year-old kids on the streets.”
The next question at the town hall came from Kimberly Corban, whom CNN described as a rape survivor from her time in a Colorado college in 2006.
She said the incident changed her view on the issue of owning a handgun. The mother of two small children, she said she now viewed it as her “basic responsibility” to own a gun and to be able to carry it for protection.
“I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids,” she said. “So why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you’re putting to make it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that where I need to be is actually just making my kids and I less safe?”
Obama told Corban that nothing he has proposed would make it more difficult for her to buy a gun. He stressed, however, that he did want to keep a gun out of the hands of her assailant, who Cooper earlier said had been convicted to 24 years in prison.
“You certainly would want to make sure that if he gets released, that he now can’t do what he did to you to somebody else, and it’s going to be easier for us to prevent him from getting a gun if there’s a strong background system in place,” Obama said.
He added: “All I’m focused on is making sure that a terrible crime like yours that was committed is not made easier because somebody can go on the Internet and just buy whatever weapon they want without us finding out whether they’re a criminal or not.”
Later, Obama found himself on the receiving end of a question from Paul Babeu, a sheriff from Arizona’s Pinal County who is mounting a Republican bid for a seat in the US House of Representatives.
Babeu noted to Obama analyses that his executive action would not have prevented any of the more recent mass shootings in the US. He asked about what he felt was the “real issue” — how to get those with mental illness and criminals to follow the law.
In his answer, Obama talked about creating a safer environment in communities throughout the US. He drew a distinction between one of the deadliest massacres in US history — in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six others were gunned down — and a knife attack in China the same day. The attack in China wounded more than 20 children at a school, but Obama noted that “most” of those wounded survived.
“The main point, I think, that I want to make here is that everybody here is in favour of going after criminals, locking them up, making sure that we’re creating an environment where kids don’t turn into criminals and providing the support that they need,” Obama said.
“Those are all important things,” he continued. “Nobody’s saying we need to be going soft on criminals. What we do have to make sure of is that we don’t make it so easy for them to have access to deadly weapons.”
Watch a clip from the town hall, Tara Kyle’s exchange with Obama, below:
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