President Obama expounded on his intentions to expand gun safety in America during a town hall moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper just days after announcing his Executive Actions on the matter. As he enters the final phase of his Presidency, Mr. Obama’s move to fully focus his energy and attention on gun reform during the first full week of the new year isn’t a mere coincidence. Historians, anchors and amateurs alike are paying close attention to the final moves that will bookend the narrative of his legacy long beyond his departure from public office.
He has referenced the Newtown shooting of first graders as the “worst day” of his presidency time and again—both during this town hall meeting and in the emotional unveiling of his executive actions on January 5. It is no surprise, then, that he has chosen gun violence as the banner issue that will precede all other political ambitions this year.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 8, 2016
In attendance at Thursday’s meeting were Americans from all walks of life who have been affected, in some way, by the tragic effects of gun violence. Amongst those present were former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who pressed the President for clarity on the possible enormity of unintended consequences that might follow his executive actions, such as the haphazard, retroactive removal of illegal weapons from homes throughout America—a nearly insurmountable task. Similarly, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a teen from the Southside of Chicago who lost her life to gun violence just days after performing at an inaugural event, wondered how any of this would preempt interstate gun trafficking. Likewise, Father Michael Phlegar, a stalwart and highly respected figure in Chicago, questioned the tactics by which we currently track gun sales and ownership—even suggesting that we assign titles to guns as we do to cars.
All were tough questions—none of which were easily or completely answered by the President. However, throughout the night, with every answer given, the President stuck to his core message by interweaving his acknowledgment of these shortcomings with tenable facts that relayed what we can do now to “keep guns from the hands of those who can do harm” (i.e., expand background checks, increase mental health awareness, and develop smart gun technology).
Sticking with this theme, he insisted, “… we can’t guarantee that criminals are not going to have ways of getting guns. But, for example, it may be a little more difficult and a little more expensive, and, you know, the laws of supply and demand mean that if something’s harder to get and it’s a little more expensive to get, then fewer people get them. And that in and of itself could make a difference.”
With approximately 30,000 deaths occurring each year as a result of firearms, and nearly two-thirds of those occurring as a result of suicide, he further stated, “if we take that number from 30,000 down to, let’s say, 28,000, that’s 2,000 families who don’t have to go through what the families at Newtown or San Bernardino or Charleston went through.”
Reactions across Twitter’s political sphere were disparate:
Gun violence is highest in cities controlled by democrats. Why is no one suggesting “democrat control”? #GunsInAmerica
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) January 8, 2016
This notion that the President or any political candidate will attempt to confiscate or take your fire arms is a big damn lie.
— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) January 8, 2016
POTUS missing key opportunity at opening of #GunsInAmerica 2 answer hardest question: Why should gun owners trust you? Asked, not answered
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) January 8, 2016
The safety of our families is more important than the interests of the NRA. Full stop. #GunsInAmerica
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 8, 2016
Most telling, perhaps, was an early statement by the President that “people occupy different realities.” He later spoke directly to the differences within those realities when asked for advice by Tre Bosley, an 18 year old student who lost his brother to gun violence in a church parking lot nearly 10 years ago. Tre essentially asked how to survive gun violence in impoverished communities. Amongst Obama’s suggestions were calls for greater investments in education and shared responsibility by parents, but he also used the moment to underscore all who are at risk:
“I think it is critical in this debate to understand that it’s not just inner city kids who are at risk in these situations… While the majority of victims of gun homicide are black or Hispanic, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white. And those, too, are tragedies. Those, too, are preventable.”
Out of it all, one thing is patently clear—we are all adversely affected by unchecked gun violence.
Take a peep at the video below to see President Obama’s full remarks to Tre:
It should be noted that the NRA was invited, but declined, to attend this town hall meeting—instead saying that Obama doesn’t “have a basic level of respect or understanding of the Second Amendment and law abiding gun owners in this country” while tweeting during the event.
It’s true: None of the president’s orders would have stopped any of the recent mass shootings #GunsInAmerica
— NRA (@NRA) January 8, 2016