President Obama is not coming to take your guns away. He promises.
Capping off a week largely focused on addressing America’s gun violence epidemic, the president spoke to a room full of constituents from across the political spectrum during a live town hall meeting Thursday night, broadcasted on CNN.
It was a mostly hushed affair, moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. By my count, the first applause for one of the president’s comments came about 32 minutes and 15 seconds into the meeting. But in the second half of the discussion, which lasted just over an hour, a few other remarks from the president drew applause from the mixed audience. That was when he addressed the popular fringe theory that his administration has a master plan to take guns away from rightful owners.
The discussion was prompted by a question from Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona U.S. Representative who was nearly killed by a gunshot to the head in a 2011 mass shooting incident.
His question, in part:
…[W]hen we testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we heard not only from the gun lobby, but from United States senators that expanding background checks will—not may—will lead to a registry, which will lead to confiscation, which will lead to a tyrannical government. So I would like you to explain, with 350 million guns in in 65 million places, households, from Key West to Alaska, 350 million objects in 65 million places: if the federal government wanted to confiscate those objects, how would they do that?
After rambling for almost a full minute about how good it was to see Gifford, and after saying how proud he is of Kelly’s twin brother, who is currently setting the world record for the longest continuous orbit around the earth, Obama finally responded to the hypothetical.
Here’s the president’s exchange with Cooper on the subject, with some added notes for clarity:
Obama: What I think Mark is getting to is, like I said earlier, this notion of a conspiracy out there, and it gets wrapped up in concerns about the federal government. Now there’s a long history of that. That’s in our DNA. You know? The United States was born suspicious of some distant authority.
Cooper: Let me just tell you … Is it fair to call it a conspiracy? A lot of people really believe this deeply, that they just don’t trust you.
Obama: I’m sorry, Grouper [sic] yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. [Applause] What are you saying? 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 not a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy! I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial? Except on some websites around the country?
Cooper: There are some lot of people who just have a fundamental distrust that you do not want to get, go further and further and further down this road. (Note: Cooper’s comment doesn't really make sense. Save the headache and don’t try to decipher it, but yes, this is a direct transcription.)
Obama: Look, I, [stammering his words]… I’m only gonna be here for another year. I don’t know. When would I have started on this enterprise? Right? [Again stammering on his words for a few seconds, before sighing very heavily and changing subjects.]
Throughout the meeting, Obama downplayed the notion that this week’s executive order will live up to the nightmare scenario described above. "This is about enforcing laws," he said. Any major legal changes would have to go through Congress, he argued, exuding confidence that the order was well within his presidential rights to enforce the law.
When answering a question from a young black man from Chicago whose brother died to gun violence, the president even characterized his action as a "modest way of us getting started" on gun reform. The rest is out of his hands, he said.
Surprisingly, the leaders of the National Rifle Association, which Obama repeatedly called out as having a "stranglehold" on sensible gun discussion, agree with his assessment, even as they fought against the executive order tooth and nail, and refused to attend Thursday's meeting, while their headquarters was just down the street.
“This is it, really?” Jennifer Baker, the NRA’s director of public affairs, told The New York Times on Tuesday. “This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together?"
"They’re not really doing anything," she said.
Tell it to the batshit forums that are going in on this, Baker. It's crazy out there.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.