Summary: Obama’s Town Hall on Guns

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President Obama announced new executive actions on gun control this week. Thursday night on CNN, Obama engaged in a town hall-like discussion with Americans on both sides of this issue. It was a great debate to watch; respectful on both sides.

Here is the rundown of what happened.

First, the breakdown of Obama’s executive actions:

  • Closing the gun show loophole:

Right now to sell guns at a gun show or online, you don’t have to have a federal license. That means you can sell guns to people without making them go through a background check (known as the gun show loophole).

Obama’s executive actions make it so that anyone who sells guns has to get a federal license and conduct background checks on every purchase.

  • More “smart” guns

In addition to closing the gun show loophole, the executive actions take small steps like improving tracking of lost/stolen guns to encouraging tech improvements to (in theory) make guns safer. They also direct more funds to enforcing existing gun laws and mental health treatment.

The Real Spotlight Tonight Was on the Audience Members Asking the Questions

The most interesting part of the Town Hall was the audience members who asked the President direct questions. He was questioned by audience members on both side of this issue.

Taya Kyle: Wife of Chris Kyle

Taya Kyle is the wife of Chris Kyle, aka American Sniper, who was killed in 2013 by a mentally ill veteran he took to the gun range.

Taya made the point to Obama that criminals by definition do not follow laws, and points out that violent crime has been declining even though gun ownership is at an all time high (true). She asked why it wouldn’t be a better use of our time to give people hope in a different way and “celebrate the fact that 99.9% of us are good people”?

Obama’s answer:

Obama said Taya makes a good point that criminals do not follow the law. He tried to make a metaphor with traffic accidents. Traffic laws and seatbelt laws don’t eliminate all traffic accidents, but over the course of 20 years traffic accidents get lower because of legal action we take to make driving safer.

This is what he says he is trying to do with guns. It is not about eliminating all gun violence but about at least making it more difficult for violent criminals to get their hands on a gun.

Kimberly Corban: Rape survivor

Corban, a woman who was raped by a man who broke into her apartment, an attack that changed her view on handguns, asked Obama why his administration can’t see that his actions that make it more difficult from owning a firearm really makes it harder for her to protect herself and her kids?

Obama’s answer:

Obama said that there is nothing in his executive actions that would make it more difficult for HER to own a gun. He said she might be referring to open carry laws, but they are mostly legislated state by state.

Paul Babeu: AZ County Sheriff

Sheriff Babeu asked Obama what he would have done to prevent these mass shootings and the terrorist attack, and how do we get those with mental illness and criminals to follow the laws?

Obama’s answer:

Obama didn’t really answer the question as to what he would have done to prevent those mass shootings or the terrorist attack. He made the point that crime is always going to be with us, so it’s really important for us to not suggest that if we can’t solve every crime, we shouldn’t try to solve any crimes.

Obama said it is really difficult to tell who is going to commit a horrific mass shooting, so we should at least try to make attacks like that less lethal. He used this example: Right around the time of Newtown in China, a guy who was similarly deranged, attacked school children with a knife. The difference? Most of them survived, because he was not yielding a semi-automatic rifle.

Father Michael Pfleger: Chicago priest

Father Pfleger has given many eulogies for children killed in Chicago by gun violence. He asked Obama why when someone buys 200 guns and sells them to others, is the original seller not held responsible for the homicides committed with those guns?

Obama said there is just not enough national consensus to pass something like that. But one thing we can do is develop better gun technology. There has been renewed interest in smart guns after Newtown, but there is huge pressure not to be the first to sell them. It is because of a New Jersey law passed in 2002 known as the Childproof Handgun Law.

That law, passed in 2002, says that all guns sold in New Jersey must be state approved smart guns within 3 years of a smart gun being sold anywhere in the country. The goal was to make smart guns mandatory as soon as the technology existed. Officially, no smart gun has been sold in the US yet.

Highlights and Commentary

Obama’s words to anyone who thinks he wants to take away their guns:

Obama went HAM on Anderson Cooper for suggesting that it is not a conspiracy for people to think he is scheming to take away people’s guns:

“Is it fair to call it a conspiracy? A lot of people really believe this deeply. They just don’t trust you.” — Anderson Cooper
“I’m sorry, Cooper. Yes it is fair to call it a conspiracy, What are you saying? 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 [not] a conspiracy? Yes that is a conspiracy! I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial?” — Obama

Meanwhile the NRA was live-tweeting the event. CNN invited the NRA to participate but they refused.

The NRA also tweeted this:

But in the 90’s the NRA supported background checks:

Here is a full round up of all of the claims about guns from both sides, fact checked:

P.S. Over 80% of Americans support background checks:

Quinnipiac University poll, conducted Dec. 16–20: “Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online?” Support: 89 percent. Oppose: 9 percent. Unsure/No answer: 1 percent.

CBS/New York Times poll, conducted Oct. 21–25: “Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?” Favor: 92 percent. Oppose: 7 percent. Unsure/No answer: 1 percent.

Gallup poll, conducted Oct. 7–11: “Would you favor or oppose a law which would require universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S. using a centralized database across all 50 states?” Favor: 86 percent. Oppose: 12 percent. Unsure: 2 percent.

Pew Research Center poll, conducted July 14–20: Do you favor or oppose “making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks”? Favor: 85 percent. Oppose: 13 percent. Unsure/Refused: 2 percent.

Make sure you read Obama’s op-ed that was released today in the New York Times.

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