Obama to make case on guns at CNN town hall

Meeting comes 2 days after emotional announcement of new executive actions on


President Barack Obama will take his push for tighter gun measures directly to the American people Thursday, in a nationally televised town hall meeting that comes two days after his emotional announcement of new executive actions to cut gun violence.

Obama will headline the "Guns in America" event exclusively on CNN live at 8 p.m. ET to press for public support for the executive measures he announced on Tuesday, which include a bid to narrow the so-called "gun-show loophole" on background checks.

"The goal of the town hall meeting is for the President to engage with both people who support his position on gun safety, but also to have a conversation with those who don't agree with some of the President's positions on these issues," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday of the event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

However, the National Rifle Association said on Wednesday that it would not send official representatives to the hour-long town hall meeting, set to include pro- and anti-gun-regulation activists and to be moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper. In an unusual format, Cooper's interview with the President will be followed by questions from people on both sides of the issue in the audience.

"The National Rifle Association sees no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN.

A CNN spokesperson said that it was the network, not the White House, that proposed the idea of a town hall on guns and noted that the audience would be evenly divided between organizations that support the Second Amendment, including NRA members, as well as groups that back gun regulation.

The town hall meeting will include around 100 guests invited by CNN. Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was injured in an assassination attempt in 2011, and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who is now a gun control advocate, will attend. Also in the audience will be Taya Kyle, widow of Chris Kyle, the soldier portrayed in the movie "American Sniper" who was murdered in a gun crime.

In an op-ed piece on CNN.com Thursday, Kyle argued against greater gun control, saying existing laws should be enforced more effectively and arguing that Americans had a right to defend themselves against people set on committing evil.

"My government has proven that it's not able to protect me against people who want to kill. And I don't blame the government, because there is only one person to blame here: The man or woman who decided to kill," Kyle wrote.

The cause of gun violence has become a deeply emotional issue for Obama. On Tuesday, he dissolved in emotion, tears rolling down his face, as he noted that the memory of the first-graders massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut three years ago were driving his efforts on reduce gun violence.

But so far, Obama's attempts to put in place more gun control measures have largely failed. Both Democratic and Republican Congresses have not been amenable to further laws. In particular, Congress blocked his attempt to legislate stricter gun laws in 2013 following the Sandy Hook deaths, leaving the White House to resort to a set of executive actions at that time that fell far short of what lawmakers could have enacted.

And every time the President announces new executive measures, he faces claims of political overreach from opponents while gun sales tend to surge.

Opponents, including Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, have claimed that Obama's moves are just a veiled attempt to take guns away from law-abiding Americans who want to defend themselves and to water down the constitutional right to bear arms.

At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Obama was on a mission to undermine the rights guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution.

"You have a president that views the Constitution as a stale and outdated document and so he habitually tries to undermine it, especially the Second Amendment. He is obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment," Rubio charged.

Obama renewed his push for gun regulations following a spree of mass shootings last year, including a one orchestrated by a radicalized Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California, in December in which 14 people died.

Republicans have criticized the President for raising the issue of gun control after the killings, saying he was downplaying the growing threat to Americans from Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil. But the White House argued that it would be prudent to make it more difficult for criminals and potential terrorists to get guns, particularly to build up large hauls of weapons, in the United States.