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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Barack Obama accuses US gun lobby of a conspiracy

President Barack Obama during a CNN televised town hall meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (AP)
President Barack Obama during a CNN televised town hall meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (AP)

President Barack Obama tore into the nation's largest gun lobby accusing it of peddling an "imaginary fiction" that has distorted the debate about firearms violence.

In a primetime, televised forum, the president dismissed what he called a "conspiracy" alleging that the government - and Mr Obama in particular - wants to seize all firearms as a precursor to imposing martial law.

He blamed the notion on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and like-minded groups that convince its members that "somebody's going to come grab your guns".

Mr Obama said: " Yes, that is a conspiracy. I'm only going to be here for another year. When would I have started on this enterprise?"

He defended his support for the constitutional right to gun ownership while arguing it was consistent with his efforts to curb violence and mass shootings.

He said the NRA was refusing to acknowledge the government's responsibility to make legal products safer, citing seatbelts and child-proof medicine bottles as examples.

Mr Obama, taking the stage at George Mason University in Virginia, said he has always been willing to meet the NRA.

He said the NRA was invited to the forum but declined to participate. Several NRA members were in the audience for the event, which was organised and hosted by CNN.

"There's a reason why the NRA's not here. They're just down the street," Mr Obama said, referring to the group's nearby headquarters.

"Since this is a main reason they exist, you'd think that they'd be prepared to have a debate with the president."

The White House portrays the NRA, the nation's largest gun group, as possessing a disproportionate influence over politicians that has prevented new gun laws despite polls that show broad support for measures like universal background checks.

Last year, following a series of mass shootings, Obama pledged to "politicise" the issue in an attempt to level the playing field for gun control supporters.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said before the event that the group saw "no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House".

The American Firearms Retailers Association, another lobby group, did participate. Asked how business had been since Mr Obama took office, Kris Jacob replied: "It's been busy."

He added: "There's a very serious concern in this country about personal security."

Mr Obama's actions on guns have drawn major attention in the presidential campaign, with the Democratic candidates backing him and the Republicans unanimously voicing opposition.

Donald Trump, addressing a rally in Vermont, said he would eliminate gun-free zones in schools on his first day if elected to the White House.

The Republican frontrunner told the crowd: "You know what a gun-free zone is for a sicko? That's bait."

Mr Obama's attack on the NRA came two days after unveiling a package aimed at keeping guns from people who should not have them.

The centrepiece is new guidance that seeks to clarify who is "in the business" of selling firearms, triggering a requirement to get a licence and conduct background checks on all prospective buyers.

Press Association

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