President Obama confronted scrutiny over his executive actions on guns head-on Thursday night in a town hall hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
The toughest questions at the town hall, which took place at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, didn’t come from Cooper, but from victims of gun violence.
The National Rifle Association, headquartered in Fairfax, declined to participate.
Here are some of those questions.
1. Why not celebrate how low the murder rate is?
The first question came from the widow of celebrated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, whose autobiography inspired the film American Sniper, survived four tours in Iraq only to be shot and killed at a gun range in Texas.
Gun ownership is at an all-time high, and the murder rate at an all-time low, Kyle’s widow, Taya, said: Why not celebrate that?
Murders and violent crime rates have been declining, Obama admitted, but he challenged the idea that the two were correlated with higher rates of gun ownership.
“If you look at where the areas are with higher gun ownership, those are the place where the crime rate hasn’t dropped that much. And you look at the places where there’s pretty stiff restrictions on gun ownership, in some of those places crimes dropped pretty quickly,” Obama said.
2. Why make it harder for victims to protect their families?
In 2006, an attacker forced his way inside Kimberly Corban’s home and raped her. The experience turned Corban into an advocate for handgun ownership and the NRA.
Corban, now a mother of two, asked the president, “Why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you’re putting to make it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that [gun] where I need to be, is actually just making my kids and I less safe?”
“Nothing we’re proposing prevents you or makes it harder for you to purchase a firearm if you need one,” Obama answered, noting that if Corban was referring to concealed carry laws, those are decided at the state level.
He said he understood why she wanted a gun to feel safe. But, he added, he “certainly would like to make it a little harder for that assailant to have also had a gun. You certainly would want to make sure that if he gets released, that he now can’t do what he did to you to somebody else, and it’s going to be easier for us to prevent him from getting a gun if there’s a strong… background check system in place.”