NEW YORK -- President Barack Obama will take questions live Thursday night from gun control advocates and opponents during a CNN town hall event, which airs amid the White House's push for modest gun regulations through executive action.
The National Rifle Association declined to participate in CNN's event, calling it a "public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House," and some gun rights advocates have expressed skepticism that critics of the president will be sufficiently represented in the audience.
But a CNN spokeswoman told HuffPost that the network, not the White House, first proposed the idea and that opposing viewpoints will be represented in the broadcast.
CNN first approached the White House after the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, according to the spokeswoman, but the president initially declined. She said that proposal sparked a conversation that led to Thursday's "Guns in America" event. Anderson Cooper hosts the 8 p.m. ET special from George Mason University in Virginia.
The town hall setting provides Obama with an opportunity to make his case before a primetime TV audience through conversations with supporters and critics, rather than speeches that even he's acknowledged have become repetitive in the wake of numerous mass shootings.
"Somehow this has become routine," Obama said after an October rampage at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this."
"We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston," he continued. "It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. What's become routine, of course, is the response from those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun regulation."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the White House "consulted" with CNN for the event, but the network's journalists will "decide exactly who attends and who gets called on."
During Thursday's press briefing, Earnest said Obama "is looking forward to talking to people on both sides of the issue" and reiterated the president's commitment to the Second Amendment, albeit with regulations such as those he proposed this week.
CNN has heavily promoted the primetime event through news segments, frequent commercials and an on-screen countdown clock that's been running since Tuesday.
CNN host Brooke Baldwin, appearing live Thursday afternoon from George Mason University, acknowledged that the NRA and Gun Owners of America declined invitations to participate, but said there will be"many NRA members and gun rights advocates in the audience."
A CNN spokeswoman said the network invited about 100 guests, representing opposing views on gun control and some "whose lives have been directly impacted by guns."
Though NRA Executive Director Chris Cox is skipping CNN's event, he won't be absent from the debate over gun control Thursday night on cable news. Cox will appear on Fox News after CNN's broadcast to respond.