WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama says it's time for US lawmakers to tackle the divisive issue of gun control in hopes of preventing tragedies like the Tucson shooting spree that killed six people.

In an opinion column published Sunday in the Arizona Daily Star, the main Tucson newspaper, Obama argued that improving the system of background checks on gun purchasers should be the first "common sense" step that neither side of the gun debate should oppose.

"I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides," Obama wrote in a rare public commentary on the gun control issue.

"However, I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way" to make the nation "a safer, stronger place."

Tucson was the location of a January 8 shooting spree that killed six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was among the wounded, shot in the head while holding an open-air political event when alleged gunman Jared Loughner opened fire.

Following the attack, Americans largely "refrained from finger-pointing, assigning blame or playing politics with other people's pain," Obama wrote.

"But one clear and terrible fact remains. A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun," he continued.

Obama said the national criminal background check system relies on state data that is "often incomplete and inadequate. We must do better."

The president said the federal government should provide incentives to states to produce better data.

Obama said he wanted his proposal "to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people."

Obama's column generated the most comments from readers on the newspaper's website Sunday, compared to the paper's other stories.