Days after announcing major changes to federal gun control policy, an impassioned President Barack Obama took to the national media to argue his case for stricter gun control Thursday night.
He took questions for more than an hour on CNN, a high-profile push to lower the number of people killed by guns nationwide every year, which he says is more than 30,000.
"There are neighborhoods around the country where it is easier for 12- or 13-year-olds to purchase a gun, and cheaper, than it is for them to get a book," he said at the meeting, broadcast by CNN and hosted by Anderson Cooper.
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An hour before the broadcast, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Obama, in which he outlines the rationale behind his changes, and adding that he will only campaign a presidential candidate who supports "common-sense gun reform."
"It’s clear that common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. Still, there are steps we can take now to save lives," he wrote in the piece, which will appear in Friday's newspaper.
Obama's changes include guidance that anyone selling guns is a gun dealer, whether they have a brick-and-mortar store or not, and adding 230 new FBI background-check examiners.
Obama faced a range of pointed questions Thursday night at George Mason University from gun-rights advocates and critics, as well as from Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head while talking to constituents in her Arizona district in 2011.
A gun owner in favor of greater gun control, Kelly said there are 65 million guns across the U.S.: "If the federal government wanted to confiscate those objects, how would they do that?"
That led to a discussion of whether the government was conspiring to take away Americans' guns. Seemingly incredulous, Obama challenged Anderson Cooper after the anchor started to speculate whether it was fair to call the notion a conspiracy.
"Yes, that is a conspiracy," Obama said. "I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial except on some website?"
One woman happy to know that crime rates are trending downward, asked the president "why not celebrate where we are?" without explicitly linking the low crime to gun control. Obama agreed, but suggested gun violence is generally lower in places with higher gun control.
The National Rifle Association declined to appear at the event. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said beforehand that the group saw "no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House."
Still, the group pushed back on Obama in real time on Twitter, noting in one tweet that "none of the president's orders would have stopped any of the recent mass shootings."
Obama noted their absence at the event.
"Since this is a main reason they exist, you'd think that they'd be prepared to have a debate with the president."