President Barack Obama defended his proposed executive actions to cut violence as he answered questions Thursday night in Northern Virginia.
Obama held a town hall meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The event, which was broadcast live on CNN as "Guns in America," came two days after Obama unveiled a series of executive orders zeroing in on enhanced gun control measures.
Obama tried to make the case for tightening gun control rules, while fighting claims by opponents of such regulations that he's trying to take away people's Second Amendment rights.
"All of us can agree that it makes sense to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who would do others harm, or would do themselves harm ... hundreds of kids under the age of 18 are being shot or shooting themselves, often by accident," he said.
Supporters and critics of Obama's plans held signs outside the town hall meeting. "Guns save lives" and "background checks save lives," opposing groups of demonstrators chanted.
The father of Daniel Barden, a 7-year-old boy killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was part of the crowd and told News4 he supports Obama's plans.
"He gave the Congress numerous opportunities to try to do something, anything, and they were unable to, so he has to do what he has to do as the president of our country to protect our communities and our children," Barden said. "He's a father. He gets this."
National Rifle Association member Joe Lothrop was among many demonstrators who defended gun rights.
"Guns do not kill people. I can lay mine right there on the sidewalk. It's not going to hurt a soul," he said.
Obama tore into the NRA as he sought support for his actions on gun control, accusing the powerful lobby group of peddling an "imaginary fiction'" he said has distorted the national debate about gun violence.
Obama dismissed what he called a "conspiracy" alleging that the federal government wants to seize all firearms as a precursor to imposing martial law. He blamed that notion on the NRA and like-minded groups that convince its members that "somebody's going to come grab your guns."
"Yes, that is a conspiracy," Obama said. "I'm only going to be here for another year. When would I have started on this enterprise?"
He said the NRA refused to acknowledge the government's responsibility to make legal products safer, citing seatbelts and child-proof medicine bottles as examples.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said beforehand that the group saw "no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House." Several NRA members were in the audience for the event. The NRA pushed back on Twitter in real time, noting at one point "none of the president's orders would have stopped any of the recent mass shootings."
Obama's proposed actions include broader background checks, new regulations on lost or stolen weapons, new research into smart gun technology and a proposed $500 million investment to improve mental health care.
Maryland officials said earlier Thursday that if in place, Obama's proposed reforms may have saved the life of a 24-year-old Montgomery County woman who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend this summer. Prosecutors say the convicted felon who killed Marie Shade Adebayo fired using an antique gun he illegally ordered by mail.
"He was not supposed to have possession of handguns, however, replicas and antique firearms are excluded in Maryland law," Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said.
Under Obama's proposed changes, anyone selling a gun, even online or by mail, would have to be licensed, and a background check would be conducted.
Del. Kathleen Dumais said she plans to take measures further in Maryland.
"There's going to be legislation that's going to be proposed by a Montgomery County delegate to try to close the gap that currently exists in the law," McCarthy said.
But not everyone believes more gun laws are the answer.
"We currently have laws in place that need to be enforced. If they're enforced, they will work," said Early Curtis, the president of Blue Ridge Arsenal, an indoor target range in Chantilly, Virginia.
He said he also wants to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands, but that criminals will find a way.
"If a criminal really wants a handgun, he'll go not to a store -- he'll go to his buddy on the corner," Curtis said.
Dumais said she plans to introduce legislation in late January.
In Fairfax, Obama will discuss the issues and take questions from people on both sides of the national issue, CNN.com reported. CNN's Anderson Cooper will host.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.