Stiff-armed by a Republican-led Congress, President Barack Obama took to national television Thursday night in an effort to sell stricter gun control laws to the American public.

During a town hall event televised live by CNN, the president dismissed the suggestion that he wants to take guns away in a “conspiracy.”

He said his efforts are instead a “modest” move toward curbing gun violence, which he called an epidemic in the United States.

“This is not a recipe for solving every problem,” Obama said. “The goal here is just to make progress.”

The hourlong program, called “Guns in America,” was broadcast two days after Obama delivered an emotional appeal to mitigate gun deaths through executive actions expanding background checks and investing in mental health.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper fielded questions to the president, offering an opportunity for both gun rights advocates and gun control proponents to discuss one of the nation’s most controversial issues.

In one exchange, Cooper interjected to say some Americans simply don’t trust Obama’s motives, asking the president if it is “fair to call it a conspiracy.” [See the 1:45 mark in the video below.]

“Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy,” Obama said, in a mocking tone.

What are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy. I would hope that you would agree with that. Is that controversial? Except on some websites around the country?

“I’m only going to be here another year,” Obama added.

“When would I have started on this enterprise? Right?” he said, sighing as if with exasperation:

It is a false notion that I believe is circulated for either political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming together among people of goodwill to develop commonsense rules that would make us safer while preserving the Second Amendment.

Taya Kyle, the widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, disputed Obama’s repeated claim that increased gun control would prevent violence, saying the administration’s measures provide a “false sense of hope.”

“The thing is that the laws we create don’t stop these horrific things from happening, right? And that’s a very tough pill to swallow.”

Obama attempted to appeal to gun owners in the audience, urging them to support measures that would close background check “loopholes” so that firearms are less likely to flow into the hands of criminals.

“I respect the Second Amendment; I respect the right to bear arms,” Obama said. “But 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 other people harm.”

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun rights organization, declined an invitation to partake in the event. In a statement to CNN, an NRA spokesman said that the advocacy group “sees no reason to participate in a public relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House.”

The event took place at George Mason University, just 3 miles west of the NRA’s national headquarters in Fairfax, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Though the group did not send a representative in person, it remained active on Twitter to rebuke the president’s remarks.

Obama has struggled through the past seven years of his presidency to advance substantial gun control proposals, moving him to act alone Tuesday to expand federal background checks in gun sales through greater firearm licensing requirements.

The president also ordered additional FBI staff to process applications and requested $500 million to invest in mental health.

A new CNN/ORC poll released Thursday found that 67 percent of Americans back the president’s ideas to tighten gun controls, while 32 percent oppose them.

However, the majority of Americans—54 percent—are against Obama skirting Congress and taking executive actions to advance his measures, while only 44 percent support his use of executive power.

Note: This report has been modified and expanded to detail the president’s “conspiracy” remarks and to clarify the polling results.