- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The nation’s largest gun rights organization declined Wednesday to send representatives to a nationally televised town hall with President Obama on gun violence, calling the prime-time event a publicity stunt by the White House to promote his latest gun control moves.

“The National Rifle Association sees no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle organized by the White House,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN, which is moderating the event live at 8 p.m. Thursday evening in Fairfax, Virginia.

The White House said Mr. Obama, who often is treated to shouts of “we love you” from audiences stacked in his favor, was looking forward to taking questions from people opposed to his gun policies.

“The audience will include not just people who agree with the president, but also some people who have views that differ from his on this issue,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “Our expectation is that when the president takes questions from the audience people with different kinds of views will be given the opportunity to ask a question.”

Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said Mr. Obama wants to “begin a conversation with a broader range of people who may disagree or agree with him.”

“It’s a very effective way of separating fact from fiction,” she said.

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Mr. Obama on Tuesday unveiled more executive actions to restrict gun ownership, including expanded background checks for firearms purchases to cover more online sales and other transactions. Gun control advocates said his moves will save lives, while gun rights groups said the steps will have no impact on gun violence but could prevent some law-abiding citizens from obtaining firearms.

“What President Obama is planning to do will not work you are penalizing the good guys,” said Rep. Roger Williams, Texas Republican, on CNN. “I wish he would focus on fighting terror in this country than attack the Second Amendment to the Constitution.”

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, expressed concern that Mr. Obama’s executive actions could prevent veterans from seeking mental health treatment. The president’s move will require mental health records to be included in background checks for gun purchases.

The American Legion strongly believes that treatment for [post-traumatic stress disorder] or depression by itself, which a number of wartime veterans experience, should not be the sole factor in denying a veteran the right to purchase a firearm,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett.

There are increasing signs that Mr. Obama intends to make guns a campaign issue in his final year in office. White House aides in recent days are talking about the need for progressives to vote on guns as single-issue voters to match the power and effectiveness of the gun rights lobby.

Ms. Jarrett said the administration will be pushing with its progressive allies in the coming days “encouraging [voters] to feel as passionately on this issue as the NRA feels.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said voters who want to prevent mass shootings need to make gun control a litmus test in elections.

“I hope this means voters will ask every candidate if they’re willing to take reasonable steps to make our children safer,” Ms. Warren told reporters. “The president has opened that door, and I hope the American people will walk through it.”

Meanwhile, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said it was an “absolute fallacy” that the nation needs more background checks. In a video message, Mr. LaPierre said most states don’t report all their felony convictions to the National Instant Check System that is used by federal authorities to conduct background checks on gun purchasers.

“Until the politicians demand that they are submitted, killers who are legally prohibited from owning firearms will walk into gun stores and pass every background check they take,” Mr. LaPierre said. “The system is only as good as the records within it. And the records only get submitted if the politicians demand it.”

He said gunmen in a recent string of 12 mass shootings, from the Washington Navy Yard to the Aurora, Colorado movie theater to a church in Charleston, South Carolina, all passed background checks.

“If you cast a net and the fish swim through the holes, you don’t need a bigger net, you need tighter holes,” Mr. LaPierre said. “When it comes to a background check system that’s missing the names of millions of prohibited people, the politicians don’t want to fix it.”

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