Statistics show the U.S. ranks number 1 in the world when it comes death by firearms. But the president's executive order, announced this week, has stoked fear among gun owners.
Dismissing critics who claim his aim is to "impose martial law," the president spoke of his frustration. "If you listen to the rhetoric, it is so over-the-top, it is so overheated," Obama told the crowd of about 100 people invited by the network to George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
"The way it is described is that we are trying to take away everybody's guns," Obama explained. "Our position is consistently mischaracterized, and by the way, there's a reason the NRA's not here."
The National Rifle Association declined an invitation to appear on CNN and instead sent its spokesman to Fox News.
"You'd think they'd be prepared to have a debate with the president," said Obama, who repeated his invitation to talk with the gun rights group at the White House while he is still in office.
Cooper interrupted Obama to ask if it’s fair to use the word “conspiracy.” Apparently miffed by the question, the president called the out CNN anchor “Cooper” instead of Anderson.
“It is a conspiracy!” said Obama, clearly flustered. “Are you suggesting that the idea we have been plotting to take everyone’s guns away is not a conspiracy? It is a false notion that I believe is commercially or politically motivated. I only have another year! When would I have started on this enterprise?"
While making the case for gun control, Obama also defended his support for the constitutional right to own a firearm, arguing it was consistent with this effort to prevent further mass shootings. He accused the NRA of refusing to acknowledge the government's responsibility to make legal products safer, citing seat belts and child-proof medicine bottles as examples.
The changes Obama is making by executive order primarily focus on background checks, yet gun rights advocates fear such regulations or find them unnecessary.
Among those critics are the Pink Pistols, a group that calls for LGBT people to arm themselves to protect against hate crimes:
"We advocate the use of lawfully-owned, lawfully-concealed firearms for the self-defense of the sexual minority community.
"We teach queers to shoot. Then we teach others that we have done so. Armed queers don’t get bashed."
"Change will be hard. It won’t happen overnight. But securing a woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. Advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has taken decades’ worth of work.
"Those moments represent American democracy, and the American people, at our best. Meeting this crisis of gun violence will require the same relentless focus, over many years, at every level."
The president has also come under fire by critics who claim he faked tears when he cried during his speech announcing his executive action at the White House, claiming Obama was not genuinely weeping at the memory of the 20 children murdered in Newtown, Conn. The suggestion that Obama was not sincere and might have wiped something under his eyes to provoke tears lit up Twitter:
Conservatives are making fun of Obama for crying over dead kids?
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) January 5, 2016
On the other side of the fight, The Washington Post notes the Obama administration has made a full-court press in trying to get its message out, via social media and The Times.
Click below to watch CNN's two-minute recap of the town hall, and scroll down for another clip from the event.