Barack Obama's gun-control town hall: 6 key moments

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke tearfully to the American people on Tuesday about the heartache he has faced from gun-related massacres. On Thursday, it was his turn to listen at a town hall meeting to discuss the issue.

Live TV forum presents opportunity for public dialogue on Second Amendment

Obama shot a withering glare at the CNN host when Cooper asked if it was fair to dismiss conservative criticisms as conspiratorial rhetoric. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke tearfully to the American people on Tuesday about the heartache and frustrations he has encountered while trying to stem gun-related massacres across the U.S. 

Face-to-face in a room with the president on Thursday, some of his opponents had the opportunity to talk back.

Two days after he outlined new measures to curb mass shootings in the most heavily armed nation in the world, Obama participated in an invitation-only town hall forum on firearms reforms.

The live CNN broadcast, Guns in America, gave gun-control supporters and challengers a prime-time opportunity to grill the president. At issue: How best to balance the right to bear arms with the danger posed to the public of owning firearms. 
Obama walks over to greet Taya Kyle, left, widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, during a commercial break at the town hall meeting at George Mason University. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)/Associated Press)

Not everyone was wholly supportive of Obama's proposed executive actions to prevent further shooting tragedies through higher regulations. Here are six salient moments from the meeting:

On Obama's personal experience with firearms

"I have never owned a gun. Up at Camp David, we've got some skeet shooting, so on a regular basis we get a 12-gauge, and I'm not making any claims about my marksmanship," Obama said.

More revealing was an anecdote the president told of his wife's expression of interest in owning a gun during an Iowa campaign stop in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election.

The president said he has never owned a gun, but related an anecdote during the 2008 White House campaign in which his wife said she could foresee owning one in certain situations 0:20

"Michelle and I are then campaigning in Iowa. And we're going to farms and we're going to counties, and at one point Michelle turned to me and said to me, you know, if I was living in farmhouse where the sheriff's department is pretty far away and somebody can just turn off the highway and come up to the farm, I'd want to have a shotgun or a rifle to make sure I was protected and my family was protected. And she's absolutely right."

An invitation to the NRA

The National Rifle Association's absence from the town hall was noted more than once. The pro-gun group declined an invitation to the town hall, but Obama made it clear he was willing to open lines of dialogue on the gun-reforms issue at the White House.

The National Rifle Association declined an invitation to the town hall, but Obama made it clear he was willing to open lines of dialogue on the gun-reforms issue at the White House 0:29

"They're just down the street," Obama noted. 

"I've said this repeatedly, I'm happy to meet with them, I'm happy to talk to them, but the conversation has to be based on facts and truth and what we're proposing. Not some imaginary fiction in which Obama's trying to take away our guns."

Kimberly Corban and 'good guys with guns'

Rape survivor Kimberly Corban, a college student in 2006 when she was attacked by a man who broke into her apartment, said her views on gun ownership changed after being victimized by an intruder.

Rape survivor Kimberly Corban presses the president on whether his executive actions would make it more difficult for her to own a weapon for self-protection 2:20

"Being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing … seems like my basic responsibility as a parent," Corban told Obama, accusing the president of proposing firearms regulations that would make it more difficult for her to obtain a weapon for protecting herself and her children.

Obama responded that none of the measures he's proposing would, in theory, add barriers to her gun ownership.

"There are always questions as to whether or not having a firearm in the home protects you from that kind of violence," he added. "What is true is that you have to be pretty well-trained in order to fire a weapon against somebody who is assaulting you, and catches you by surprise. And what is also true is there's always possibility that firearm in a home leads to a tragic accident."

On the gun-control 'conspiracy'

At one point, the president appeared befuddled by a question from CNN mediator Anderson Cooper, who asked if it was "fair" for Obama to dismiss notions that he wants to "take guns away from Americans" as a conspiracy.

CNN host Anderson Cooper drew the ire of the president when he asked whether it was 'fair' to dismiss Republican characterizations of his on gun-reform stance as a 'conspiracy' 0:57

"Yes, I'm sorry, Cooper. Yes it is fair to call it a 'conspiracy,'" Obama snapped back, drawing laughter and applause.

"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 a conspiracy? Yes that is a conspiracy, I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial?"

Criticism from a sheriff

Sheriff Paul Babeu from Pinal County in Arizona pointed out that none of the measures outlined by the president as part of his proposed executive actions would have prevented the recent mass shootings.

Cooper added that none of the guns in recent mass shootings were purchased from non-licensed dealers.

Sheriff Paul Babeu from Pinal County in Arizona points out that none of the measures outlined by the president as part of his proposed executive actions would have prevented the recent mass shootings 3:35

Babeu, who has been telling citizens to arm themselves for protection, asked the president how he would get would-be assailants or terrorists to follow the laws.

"It's important not to suggest that if we can't solve every crime, we shouldn't solve any crime," Obama answered, noting that Adam Lanza, the gunman in the Newtown school massacre never had a criminal record.

"But he was able to have access to an arsenal that allowed him in very short order to kill an entire classroom of small children. And so the question then becomes, are there ways for us … to make it less lethal when something like this happens?"

A cameo from Gabby Giffords

Former Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords, wounded in a 2011 shooting, stood with husband Mark Kelly as he asked Obama a question during the town hall 2:09

Thursday's town hall at George Mason University also marked the five-year anniversary of the shooting and wounding of then Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords at a political event in Arizona.

During the town hall, Giffords stood by her husband, Mark Kelly, as he drolly requested that Obama parse the logic behind how a supposedly "tyrannical" government could confiscate firearms from a nation with 350 million guns.

"Every time I see Gabby I'm just so thrilled because I visited her in the hospital," Obama said. "And as I mentioned in a speech…as we left the hospital to go to the memorial service [for the 2011 Arizona shooting victims], we got word that Gabby had opened her eyes for the first time."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.