President Obama’s appearance at a town hall meeting Thursday night on “Guns in America” was an orchestrated performance by invitation only. But event, hosted by CNN at George Mason University, saw anchor Anderson Cooper continually surprise the president.
Cooper demonstrated a deft command of the facts related to the gun issue and that came through with his guests and in his questions—though, as the evening unfolded, he continually let the president get away with untruths about his past positions.
Surprisingly, both sides of the issue were present in the small room—though, judging by audience applause, most were anti-gun-freedom.
Some of the moments were unintentionally revealing.
Cooper began by asking President Obama if he’d ever owned a gun. Mr. Obama sat up in surprise and said “no.” But, after a search for words, the president said he shoots skeet sometimes at Camp David before adding that he’s not much “of a marksman.” When he said that anyone who enjoys the shotgun sports knew he must not have shot skeet much, as “marksmanship” is a term used for target shooting, not by those who shoot skeet, trap or sporting clays.
When Cooper shifted the discussion to why the president chose to use executive actions on the gun issue, instead of working with Congress, Cooper asked the president if he would meet with the NRA. The president said, “I’m happy to meet with the NRA,” but as he said it he had this snarky smile on his face that would have been more fitting on one of his late show appearances.
Now, CNN says they invited President Obama to this live “town hall” on guns at George Mason University and that they later invited the NRA. The NRA, however, said they’d rather not play along with a “public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for firearms manufacturers, also declined an invitation. Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel to the NSSF, told me, “We declined the invitation because it is a White House-orchestrated made-for-TV event and not an opportunity for a genuine dialogue or an effort to find common ground. We remain disappointed that the president has chosen to demagogue the issue for political purposes instead of providing real leadership like working to advance Rep. Tim Murphy’s bipartisan legislation to address the issue of mental health, which is the common denominator in mass shootings.”
Given Obama’s—and CNN’s—attacks on the NRA and gun manufacturers in general, it is hard to blame them for passing on the invitation, but in retrospect Cooper might have made them wish they were there to help keep President Obama squirming.
As squirm he did—with the facts and in his seat.
Taya Kyle, the wife of the late “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, was the first person Cooper called on. Kyle recently won a gun competition using the latest in sniper technology. She is a confident straight shooter. She pointed out that while the murder rate is at an all-time low, gun ownership is at an all time high. And then she asked, “Why not celebrate who we are?”
President Obama began shifting on his stool and searching for words to lawyer his way out of these basic facts. He finally pointed out that national trends don’t necessarily hold true in all locales, but he never had to answer why the areas with the strictest gun controls tend to have the highest murder rates.
There was also a rape survivor, Kimberly Corban, who, when called on said, “I have been unspeakably vandalized once already” before asking why she shouldn’t be able to carry a gun to protect herself.
President Obama was really uncomfortable then. He began back peddling and said his current executive actions won’t interfere with her right to carry a gun. But he never had to explain that he has supported bans on concealed-carry permits.
President Obama also repeatedly said that people can “just go on the Internet and buy whatever weapon they want.” But he was never forced to explain that any gun bought from a dealer over the Internet has to be sent to a local dealer that by law has to perform a background check before they can transfer the gun.
Later, Cooper actually did challenge President Obama by breaking in and asking “is it fair to call it a conspiracy” that people think he wants to take their guns away. “Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy,” said President Obama, who then claimed that he isn’t plotting take peoples’ guns away.
But Cooper didn’t force the president to address his advocacy for a renewed “assault weapons” ban, or for his administration’s public desire to use black lists, such as the no-fly list, to take away citizens’ Second Amendment rights without giving them even the basics of due process.
There were other questions that took President Obama aback, such as when Sheriff Paul Babue pushed Obama on how his proposals wouldn’t solve recent mass shootings. Cooper even broke in to say that “none of the guns used in recent mass shootings, I should point out, were purchased from legal dealers.”
President Obama didn’t have a clear answer to say why he isn’t swayed by these facts. He meandered before saying, “The young man who killed those children in Newtown didn’t have a criminal record but he had access to an arsenal.” He referred to an attack in China where a person attacked people with a knife and said “the vast majority survived because he wasn’t wielding a semiautomatic.”
Again, Cooper allowed President Obama to escape an obvious allusion to the fact that he would like to ban semiautomatic firearms.
The president was also allowed to get away with a big lie on “smart-guns.”
President Obama said, “[Smart Gun technology] has not been developed primarily because it has been blocked by the NRA” and firearms manufacturers.
Cooper didn’t challenge this point and instead called on a person in the audience, which changed the topic.
Nevertheless, this is a clear and provable fabrication by President Obama. As I detail, with interviews with many gun makers, law makers and gun experts in my book “The Future of the Gun,” the NRA and the NSSF, to name two pro-Second Amendment groups, have statements on their websites saying they are not opposed to “smart-gun” technology. All the manufacturers, the NRA leadership and more, point to laws that seek to mandate smart-gun technology—regulations previously backed by the Obama administration—that are what is impeding smart-gun development. Even “60 Minutes” noted this, and pointed out a New Jersey law on the books that would do this, in a recent report.
President Obama said early on in the town hall event that “people occupy different realities.”
Anyone who watched CNN’s “Guns in America” was certainly left with the conclusion that in Obama’s chosen reality he wishes he could, with a stroke of his pen, pass European-style gun controls in America.
Frank Miniter is author of The Future of the Gun" & "The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide". His latest book is, "This Will Make a Man of You: One Man’s Search for Hemingway and Manhood in a Changing World" .