SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday he refuses to accept the idea that regular mass shooting are "the new normal" in America but doesn't expect Congress to respond because of the influence of the National Rifle Association.
Obama said his first comments on the church shootings in South Carolina, in which he said that political realities foreclosed action by Congress, had been misinterpreted by some as showing he was resigned to inaction on the issue of access to guns.
"I'm not resigned," he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I have faith that we will eventually do the right thing."
The president said more thoughtful debate is needed from partisans on both sides on the issue — "without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody's guns away."
In an interview earlier Friday with comedian Marc Maron for his podcast, Obama said the country has to find a way to respect hunting and sportsmanship traditions while preventing a 21-year-old who "is racist or is deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing and can do enormous harm."
"Unfortunately the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong," Obama said. "I don't foresee any legislative action being taken in this Congress. And I don't foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves this is not normal, this is something that we can change and we're going to change it. And if you don't have that kind of public and voter pressure, it's not going to change from the inside."
Before the mayors, Obama held out evolving public opinion on gay marriage and climate change as evidence that attitudes can change.
Obama says he couldn't say that the gun control legislation he pushed unsuccessfully earlier in his tenure would have stopped the Charleston shootings, "but we might still have more Americans with us."
"You all might have had to attend fewer funerals," he told the mayors.
Obama held out actions by mayors from both parties around on the country on issues such as the minimum wage, family leave and broader access to preschool as evidence that changes at the local level can make a difference in areas where Congress has declined to advance his priorities. And he urged the mayors to help advance his trade agenda, which has come up against stiff resistance from some Democrats in Congress.
"Put some pressure on Congress to get this done," he urged.
Despite the Democratic revolt over his trade policy, Obama is using his California trip to raise political money for lawmakers who voted against him on the issue, fitting in four party fundraisers over two days with tickets as high as $33,400. He and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi put aside their split on the matter at a fundraiser in her San Francisco district. Pelosi was on hand for the mayors' gathering as well, and the president had a kiss on the cheek for her at the outset of the event.
At the fundraiser hosted by retired hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer in his home with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Obama called Pelosi an "extraordinary partner in Congress" as she praised his executive actions as "fabulous."
"It's not like I agree with my Democratic caucus on everything," he said, pausing for laughter and then turning to grin at Pelosi, who smiled and blushed. "But on 98 percent of things, they're moving in the right direction."
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