Obama faces tough sell on gun control

President Barack Obama (centre) listening to Mrs Taya Kyle, widow of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, during the town hall forum on gun control at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The event was hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper (right).
President Barack Obama (centre) listening to Mrs Taya Kyle, widow of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, during the town hall forum on gun control at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The event was hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper (right).PHOTO: REUTERS

CNN forum attended by President underlines deep divisions among Americans on issue

US President Barack Obama received a reminder on Thursday of the challenges that lie ahead in trying to form some sort of national consensus on gun control.

Participating in a CNN town hall forum on gun control in Virginia, the President was confronted with an audience who believed that the government had either already overstepped the boundaries on the issue or not done enough - but nothing in-between.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama had announced a set of executive actions that are meant to expand background checks by clarifying laws and to channel more resources to law enforcement and mental health treatment. He also wrote an op-ed saying that he would not back any politician - even one from his own party - who did not support common-sense gun control.

On one side of the debate were people like county sheriff Paul Babeu, who wanted the President to do more to stop terrorism rather than to control guns, and rape victim Kimberly Corban, who argued that her past now made her feel a responsibility to carry a gun to protect her children.

"As a survivor of rape and now a mother to two small children, it seems like being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing, and being able to carry that wherever me and my family are, it seems like my basic responsibility as a parent at this point," she said to the President, asking him why his administration wants to make it harder for her to get a gun.

"I have been unspeakably victimised once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids."

On the other side were those like Mrs Cleo Pendleton, whose 15-year- old daughter Hadiya was killed by a gunman. Hadiya had performed at Mr Obama's second inauguration.

Mrs Pendleton wanted to know if there was more the government could do to stop trafficking of guns from states with loose gun laws to those with stricter ones.

But not all the families of victims of gun violence at the event were in favour of more restrictions.

Mrs Taya Kyle - the widow of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who was killed by a gunman - implied in her question that the President had portrayed Americans as bad people and had not done enough to celebrate the fact that gun deaths have dropped overall.

"Why not celebrate where we are... Celebrate that we're good people and 99.9 per cent of us are never going to kill anyone," she said.

Mr Obama spent much of the hour-long forum explaining the executive actions he unveiled earlier this week, stressing that he was not trying to make it harder for law-abiding Americans to get guns and that there was no conspiracy to ultimately confiscate guns.

"It is a false notion that I believe is circulated for either political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming together among people of goodwill to develop common-sense rules that will make us safer while preserving the Second Amendment," Mr Obama said.

He repeated a plea he made earlier in the week that the pursuit of a perfect solution should not stop the country from taking small steps.

"This is not a proposal to solve every problem. It's a modest way of us getting started on improving the prospects of young men and young women like you, the same way we try to improve every other aspect of our lives. That's all it is," he said.

"But at least let's figure it out, let's try some things. Let's not just assume that every few weeks there's a mass shooting that gets publicity, every few months there's one that gets national publicity, every day there are a whole bunch of folks shot on streets around the country that we don't even hear about. That is not something that we can be satisfied with."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Obama faces tough sell on gun control'. Print Edition | Subscribe