US President Barack Obama on Thursday vowed not to campaign or vote for any candidate, including US Democrats, who opposes tighter gun laws, as he publicly challenged critics of his policies. In a concerted effort to garner support for contentious unilateral measures regulating the sale and purchase of guns, a sometimes combative Obama took to television to make his case.
About 30,000 people are killed in the US every year by guns, mostly in suicides.
In an opinion article in the New York Times and in a primetime CNN debate that featured questions from gun owners, Obama argued for executive measures regulating the sale and purchase of weapons, controversially bypassing Congress.
“Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen,” he said in a message posted on the Times’ Web site.
“I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support commonsense gun reform,” Obama said.
That relatively short list could include US Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who voted against gun reform in 2013.
On television Obama chastised critics who he said have “mischaracterized” his position and falsely believe he wants to repeal the right to bear arms and seize the estimated 350 million weapons in the US.
“It is a conspiracy,” Obama said. “I’m only going to be here for another year.”
“Keep in mind I’ve been president for over seven years and gun sales don’t seem to have suffered during that time,” he said.
“I’ve been very good for gun manufacturers,” he added.
Obama, who said he had never owned a gun, has blamed Congress for being beholden to the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby group that fights any action that might infringe on Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
The NRA sat out the town hall, aired live on CNN from a university just kilometers from the group’s Virginia headquarters, calling it a “public relations spectacle.”
However, several gun owners peppered Obama with arguments against his gun rule proposals.
Taya Kyle, widow of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle who was killed at a gun range and portrayed in the film American Sniper, said laws would not stop people with criminal intent.
“The problem is that they want to murder,” Kyle said.
Kimberly Corban, a survivor of a sexual assault who said she carried a gun to protect herself and her two young children, told Obama that she felt his changes infringed on her rights.
“I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids,” Corban said.
He scoffed at the NRA for skipping the televised forum and said the White House had invited the group to meetings many times, to no avail.
“I’m happy to talk to them, but the conversation has to be based on facts and truth, and what we’re actually proposing, not some ... imaginary fiction in which ‘Obama’s trying to take away your guns,’” Obama said.
NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox said he was “not really interested” in talking to Obama.
“He doesn’t support the individual right to own a firearm. That’s been the position of his Supreme Court nominees, that’s been the position of his administration,” Cox said on Fox News after the CNN debate.
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