WASHINGTON President Barack Obama urged gun control advocates to listen to views of rural Americans who use guns for hunting and said bridging a cultural divide in attitudes to gun ownership will be critical to his administration's push to curb gun violence.
"If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that," Obama said in an interview with The New Republic magazine published on Sunday on its website.
Obama made gun control a top priority for his second term after 20 children and six adults were killed in December by a gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Obama spoke with The New Republic on January 16, the same day he announced he would put the full weight of his office behind urging Congress to approve an assault weapons ban and background checks for all gun buyers.
"Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas," Obama said.
"So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden is leading the White House effort to talk to Americans about the gun control proposals and galvanize public support to pressure Congress to act. On Friday, he spoke in Virginia about the plan.
Gun ownership rights are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and past efforts to restrict gun ownership have been blocked by gun owners, the National Rifle Association and their supporters in Congress.
Rural Americans traditionally vote Republican, and Obama was criticized during the 2008 election campaign for comments about how small-town Americans "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" - comments for which he later apologized.
Asked whether he had ever fired a gun, Obama said he had gone skeet shooting with guests at Camp David, a country residence in rural Maryland where presidents traditionally host foreign leaders.
"Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Eric Beech)