President Obama doubled down on his push for gun control Thursday at a televised town hall meeting in which he said that sales of guns have soared under his presidency because gun rights groups have convinced people “that somebody is going to come get your guns.”
“Part of the reason is that the NRA has convinced many of its members that somebody is going to come get your guns,” Obama said after admitting that his presidency had been good for gun manufacturers.
The town hall came just two days after Obama announced executive actions designed, among other goals, to broaden the scope of gun sales subject to background checks.
Obama said that he has never owned a gun but would occasionally shoot one at Camp David for skeet shootings.
He also said he would “be happy” to meet with the National Rifle Association — which has vocally opposed to the president’s gun control proposals — and that he had invited them to the White House multiple times. Obama criticized the NRA’s decision not to attend the event, and took aim at their fiery language in response to his actions.
“If you listen to the rhetoric, it is so over the top, and so overheated,” Obama said.
At the town hall, which was hosted and televised by CNN, Obama took questions from Taya Kyle, whose late husband Chris Kyle was depicted in the film “American Sniper.” Kyle told Obama that gun ownership was at an all-time high while murder rates are at an historic low, and defended her right to own a gun.
“I want the hope — and the hope that I have the right to protect myself; that I don’t end up to be one of these families; that I have the freedom to carry whatever weapon I feel I need,” Kyle said.
“There is a way for us to set up a system where you (as) a 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,” Obama replied.
Obama also took questions from Cleo Pendleton, whose daughter was shot and killed near Obama’s Chicago home, and from Sheriff Paul Babeu, an Arizona lawman and congressional candidate who has accused Obama of unconstitutional power grabs on guns.
He also took questions from controversial Chicago Catholic priest Rev. Michael Pfleger.
“The reality is that I don’t understand why we can’t title guns just like cars,” Pfleger said. “If I have a car and I give it to you, Mr. President, and I don’t transfer a title, and you’re in an accident, it’s on me.”
“Issues like licensing, registration, that’s an area where there’s just not enough national consensus at this stage to even consider it. And part of it is, is people’s concern that that becomes a prelude to taking people’s guns away,” Obama replied.
Also in the audience was former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Kelly and Giffords became prominent gun control advocates after Giffords was shot in 2011.
Obama has come under heavy fire from Republicans and Second Amendment advocates for his actions, which they say infringe on Americans’ right to bear arms.
The NRA fired back at Obama while the town hall was still going on. NRA Director Chris Cox told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly: “This is an attempt to distract the American people away from his failed policies.”
“The NRA does more to teach safe and responsible gun ownership than this president ever has or ever will,” Cox said.
The president also published an opinion piece in Thursday’s New York Times in which he pledged not to support any candidate who is opposed to gun control.
“I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform,” Obama said, a move that could make Democratic candidates in Republican states feel unable to request the political support of the two-term president.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said before the event that Obama hoped the forum will spur a “serious conversation” about the Second Amendment as well as the administration’s new push to tighten gun control rules.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.