President Barack Obama said Thursday that combining gun safety with background checks would save lives while respecting the constitutional right of Americans to own weapons.
Obama made his comments at a town-hall-style meeting on his new executive orders for tighter gun control. The meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, outside Washington, was proposed by and broadcast on CNN television.
The president said increased background checks would not prevent many people from being able to purchase guns. But he said the loopholes in the current system do not keep someone from buying guns in one state without a background check, crossing the border to another state, and reselling those guns for a profit.
Obama said there are places in the U.S. where it is easier and cheaper for a 12-year-old child to get a gun than to buy a book.
The president said that many times, police and others do not know ahead of time who is going to be a criminal. He pointed out that the shooter who killed more than 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut in 2012 had no criminal record.
He said that while no one can guarantee a criminal cannot get his hands on a gun, tighter background checks will make it a bit harder and more expensive.
At the close of the meeting, Obama said it is not just deaths at the hands of criminals that are the problem. He said tighter laws could stop many accidental killings and suicides by distraught teenagers looking to escape their problems.
Thursday's audience was filled with specially selected advocates for and against more gun control. They included gun owners, gun dealers and victims of gun violence, such as former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who barely survived a bullet wound to the head in 2011.
CNN invited the National Rifle Association to send representatives. It declined.
Obama said NRA rhetoric was "over the top and overheated." He said he would be happy to meet and talk with the NRA as long as it dealt with what he called the facts.
In an opinion piece published Thursday in The New York Times, the president said he accepted that common-sense gun reform would not pass in Congress during his presidency. But he urged Americans, including responsible gun owners, to demand that the firearms industry and the nation's leaders do their part to help "protect our fellow citizens."
Earlier this week, in an emotional appearance at the White House, the president announced his series of measures affecting both gun sellers and buyers. At one point as he spoke, he wiped away tears while remembering the victims of gun violence, especially children.
The new rules tighten licensing procedures for those who sell firearms and tighten requirements for background checks before purchasers can acquire weapons.
Republican lawmakers who rejected Obama's attempts to tighten gun regulations in 2013 said the president overstepped his authority by issuing the new rules, which they contended would not help reduce the number of violent crimes involving guns.
Guns are involved in about 32,000 deaths every year in the United States. About 60 percent of those deaths are suicides.