Gun control advocates need to do “more listening” to rural Americans, Barack Obama has said in an interview during which he acknowledged going on shoots with guests at Camp David.
In an New Republic article published Sunday, the president said he had a “profound respect” for the nation’s hunting traditions and that to dismiss them out of hand in the course of the debate would be “a big mistake”.
“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 uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that,” he said.
The comments come as America attempts to confront its culture of gun violence with new legislation.
Earlier this month, Obama presented a package of measures that included bans on the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity clips, alongside improved background checks on would-be owners.
The proposed legislation has encountered opposition from the powerful lobbing group the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun enthusiasts who claim that it infringes their second amendment right to bear arms.
In comments to the New Republic, Obama said that he had been “explicit about believing that the second amendment was important” and that he respected “the right of responsible gun owners”.
Asked if he had ever personally fired a gun, the president replied: “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time”.
He added that his two girls, Sasha and Malia, were not included in the clay pigeon shoots at the presidential retreat, but “oftentimes guests of mine go up there”.
The comment led on to an apparent defence of gun ownership for the purposes of sport or hunting. Obama noted that it was important to understand that “the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas”.
Bridging that gap of understanding “is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months,” the president said, adding: “And that means that advocates of gun controls have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.”
During Obama’s term in the White House, campaigners for greater gun controls were disappointed by the lack of action. In 2010, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama an “F” grade, due in large part to new laws signed by the president allowing people to carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked bags on Amtrak trains.
But the deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in December appeared to have impacted on the national dialogue and have led to a fresh push by the White House to tackle the issue of guns.