President Obama scoffed at CNN host Anderson Cooper for questioning whether it was “fair” for him to brand pro-gun opponents as conspiracy theorists for fearing firearm registration or confiscation.
Obama was surrounded by people on both sides of the gun-control issue at a CNN townhall held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, asked the president “to explain, with 350 million guns in 65 million places, households from Key West to Alaska — 350 million objects in 65 million places — if the federal government wanted to confiscate those objects, how would they do that?”
Obama noted “this notion of a conspiracy out there, and it gets wrapped up in concerns about the federal government.”
“Now, there’s a long history of that. That’s in our DNA. The United States was born suspicious of some distant authority,” he said.
Cooper jumped in, “Is it fair to call it a conspiracy? I mean, there’s a lot of people who really believe this deeply — that they just don’t trust you.”
“I’m sorry, Cooper, yes it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying?” Obama snapped back. “Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy. I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial except on some websites around the country?”
“There are certainly a lot of people who just have a fundamental distrust that you do not want to get — go further and further and further down this road,” Cooper replied.
“Look, I mean, I’m only going to be here for another year. I don’t know — when would I have started on this enterprise, right?” Obama said, adding that people in downstate Illinois hunt “so this is not, like, alien territory to me.”
“I just came back from Alaska, where I ate a moose that had just been shot — and it was pretty good,” the president continued. “So, yes, it is a false notion that I believe is circulated for either political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming together among people of goodwill to develop common-sense rules that will make us safer while preserving the Second Amendment.”
“And the notion that we can’t agree on some things while not agreeing on others and the reason for that is because, well, the president secretly wants to X would mean that we’d be paralyzed about doing everything. I mean, maybe when I proposed to make sure that unsafe drugs are taken off the market that, secretly, I’m trying to control the entire drug industry, or take people’s drugs away. But probably not. What’s more likely is I just want to make sure that people are not dying by taking bad drugs.”
Cooper started the forum by asking Obama if he has ever owned a gun.
“I have never owned a gun. Now, up at Camp David, we’ve got some skeet shooting, so on a fairly regular basis, we get a 12-gauge and — I’m not making any claims about my marksmanship,” Obama replied. “I grew up mostly in Hawaii, and other than hunting for wild pig — which they do once in a while — there’s not the popularity of hunting and sportsmanship with guns as much as there are in other parts of the country.”
He later said that, while on the campaign trail, Michelle Obama noted that if they lived on a farm in Iowa they’d “want to have a shotgun or a rifle” for home protection.
The president also chided the National Rifle Association for not sending a representative to the forum, even though NRA headquarters was a few miles down the road. “Since this is the main reason they exist, you’d think that they’d be prepared to have a debate with the president,” he said.
“I’m happy to talk to them. But the conversation has to be based on facts and truth and what we’re actually proposing, not some imaginary fiction in which Obama is trying to take away your guns.”
The first audience member who posed a question to Obama was Taya Kyle, widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle.
“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,” Kyle said. “So why not celebrate where we are? I guess that’s my real question — is celebrate that we’re good people, and 99.9 percent of us are never going to kill anyone.”
Obama began by offering “thanks to your husband for his service, and thank you for your service, because of extraordinary heroism that he and your family have shown in protecting all of us. And I’m very grateful for that.”
“There is a way for us to set up a system where you, a responsible gun owner, who I’m assuming, given your husband and your family, is a much better marksman than I am, 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. And that is I think what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Cooper then introduced Obama to Kimberly Corban, who was raped by a home intruder 10 years ago and stressed that “being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing, and being able to carry that wherever me and my family are, it seems like my basic responsibility as a parent at this point.”
Obama said “there are always questions as to whether or not having a firearm in the home protects you from that kind of violence.”
“And I’m not sure we can resolve that. People argue it both sides. What is true is, is that you have to be pretty well trained in order to fire a weapon against somebody who is assaulting you and catches you by surprise. And what is also true is there’s always the possibility that that firearm in a home leads to a tragic accident. We can debate that, round or flat,” he said.
“…If you look at the statistics, there’s no doubt that there are times where somebody who has a weapon has been able to protect themselves and scare off an intruder or an assailant. But what is more often the case is that they may not have been able to protect themselves but they end up the victim of the weapon that they purchased themselves.”
Obama was also challenged by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is running for Congress as a Republican.
Babeu noted that, with regard to Obama’s explanations for his executive actions, “aspirin, toys, or cars, they’re not written about in the Constitution.”
“What would you have done to prevent these mass shootings and the terrorist attack? And how do we get those with mental illness and criminals — that’s the real problem here — how are we going to get them to follow the laws?” Babeu asked.
Obama said “the challenge we have is that in many instances, you don’t know ahead of time who’s going to be the criminal — it’s not as if criminals walk around with a label saying, ‘I’m a criminal.’”
“Nobody is saying we need to be going soft on criminals,” the president added in his lengthy answer that included the Newtown shooting. “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.”
Babeu later tweeted: “I asked @potus what new law he would want to prevent mass shootings. No answer.”