Obama de­fends ef­forts, rips NRA, which calls event “spec­ta­cle”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By The Wash­ing­ton Post

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama calls out the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion at a town hall meet­ing, say­ing the group was re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make le­gal weapons safer.

fair­fax, va.» As Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ap­peared be­fore an au­di­ence of 100 par­ti­sans on both sides of the gun de­bate Thurs­day night at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity — and was beamed into the liv­ing rooms of homes in red and blue states on the live CNN broad­cast — his ef­forts to bridge the cul­tural di­vide on guns looked in­creas­ingly hope­less.

“Cel­e­brate that we’re good peo­ple and 99.9 per­cent of us aren’t go­ing to kill any­one,” Taya Kyle, the widow of for­mer Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whose story, in­clud­ing his death at the hands of a mentally un­sta­ble man, was the ba­sis of the movie “Amer­i­can Sniper,” told Obama plain­tively. She had writ­ten a com­men­tary ar­ti­cle ear­lier in the day say­ing stricter gun con­trol “won’t pro­tect us.”

Obama thanked her and her hus­band for their “ser­vice.”

The pres­i­dent has ven­tured into a bat­tle in which spe­cific pol­icy pro­pos­als are over­shad­owed by deeply held at­ti­tudes about the proper role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The de­bate is tak­ing place in a coun­try where nearly a third of the cit­i­zens live in a home with guns, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral sta­tis­tics, and 22 per­cent re­port own­ing firearms.

“I re­spect the Sec­ond Amend­ment. I re­spect the right to bear arms,” Obama told moder­a­tor An­der­son Cooper. “But all of us can agree to take com­mon-sense steps to keep guns out of the hands of peo­ple who want to do harm.”

Aides said be­fore the event that Obama was ea­ger for a “se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion” with his op­po­nents. But his frus­tra­tion was pal­pa­ble from the start.

“Our po­si­tion is con­sis­tently mis­char­ac­ter­ized,” he said.

Not­ing that the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion had de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion to the town hall, Obama said: “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.”

Later, Obama ap­peared ex­as­per­ated when he la­beled such sug­ges­tions “a con­spir­acy.”

The event came as the cap­stone to a week in which Obama an­nounced new, rel­a­tively small-scale ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions to reg­u­late the gun in­dus­try.

In an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in The New York Times late Thurs­day, Obama said he would not cam­paign for or sup­port any politi­cian in ei­ther party who does not sup­port “com­mon-sense gun re­form.”

That Obama’s fo­rum was broad­cast on ca­ble news — which he has said he al­most never watches, be­cause of the hy­per­par­ti­san dis­course — shows how de­ter­mined he is to break through the noise to reach the pub­lic.

The NRA called the show a “pub­lic re­la­tions spec­ta­cle or­ches­trated by the White House.”

Obama fielded ques­tions from a rape vic­tim who op­poses more gun re­stric­tions and from gun-con­trol ad­vo­cate Mark Kelly, hus­band of for­mer Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords, D-Ariz., who sur­vived a shoot­ing in 2011. Gif­fords on Thurs­day stood next to him.

“Part of the rea­son this ends up be­ing a really dif­fi­cult is­sue is that peo­ple oc­cupy dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties,” Obama said.

Stud­ies have shown that Amer­i­cans liv­ing in a home with firearms are more likely to be in­jured by guns.

But gun rights ad­vo­cates have cited a half-dozen in­ci­dents in the past two years in which in­di­vid­u­als have re­port­edly averted a mass shoot­ing by open­ing fire on the po­ten­tial per­pe­tra­tor.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama greets Taya Kyle, widow of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, dur­ing a break. Kyle had told Obama she doesn’t be­lieve that his re­cent gun con­trol mea­sures will stop gun violence be­cause crim­i­nals don’t fol­low the law. Ni­cholas Kamm, AFP

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