Obama debates controversial Arizona sheriff on guns

President Obama had a spirited exchange with a controversial Arizona sheriff running for Congress on Thursday at a televised town hall on gun violence. 

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (R), who told citizens to arm themselves in the wake of the San Bernardino, Calif., terror attack, suggested to Obama that his executive actions on guns won’t stop future mass shootings.

Before responding, the president paused and wished Babeu “good luck" in his race.

“You sure you want to go to Congress?” Obama asked.

"I don't want your endorsement,” Babeu responded.

‘I’m sure that’s true, that will hurt you,” Obama replied with a chuckle.

Obama defended his unilateral action intended make more gun sales eligible for background checks. He admitted the measure won't stop all gun violence, but it could prevent some. 

“Crime is always going to be with us, so I think it’s really important for us not to suggest if we can’t solve every crime, we shouldn’t try to solve any crimes,” he said. 

Critics of Obama’s executive actions say the measures wouldn’t have prevented mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif. The guns used in those massacres were purchased legally by other individuals from traditional gun sellers. 

Babeu is well known in his home state. He first surfaced on the national political scene in 2010, when he appeared in Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE’s (R-Ariz.) famous “complete the danged fence” campaign ad. He became a frequent cable news guest to discuss immigration issues.

During his first run for Congress in 2012, he was outed as gay by a Mexican immigrant who accused the sheriff of threatening to deport him if he revealed their romantic relationship. The man, Jose Orozco, also released revealing photos of the sheriff. 

Babeu was eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing by the state attorney general. He’s now running in a contested Republican primary to replace outgoing Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickHouse Dems highlight promising new candidates Vulnerable House incumbents build up war chests Cook Political Report shifts 11 House races towards Democrats MORE (D-Ariz.).

Obama also took a question from another high-profile critic of his gun policies, Taya Kyle, whose late husband Chris was the subject of the film "American Sniper."