President Obama said Tuesday his greatest frustration as president was that Washington was unwilling "to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage" amid waves of gun violence at the nations' schools.
"I have been in Washington for awhile now, and most things don't surprise me," Obama said during a town-hall discussion on education policy hosted by Tumblr. "The fact that 20 six-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent way possible and this town couldn't do anything about it was stunning to me."
"We take it for granted in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me," Obama said.
He said the U.S. was "the only developed country on earth where this happens, and it happens now once a week" and described levels of American gun violence as "off the charts."
But, the president said, "sadly not that much is going to change" unless supporters of additional gun regulations exerted pressure on Congress.
"Most members of Congress, and I have to admit this is bipartisan, are terrified of the NRA," Obama said.
Obama contrasted the response of legislators in Australia following a massacre, who " basically imposed very severe tough gun laws and they haven't had a mass shooting since," to lawmakers in the U.S.
He noted that after the Sandy Hook shooting, he supported a bill that would have closed the loophole enabling the purchase of weapons without a background check at gun shows, only to have it stall in the Senate. He said the US. should "be ashamed of that."
Obama also rejected the argument that gun violence stemmed from a mental health crisis.
"The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people," Obama said. "It is not the only country that has psychosis, and yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anywhere else. The difference is these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses, and that's sort of par for the course."
Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Obama, who until speaking at length on the topic Tuesday had fell largely silent on the issue of gun violence.
Earnest said increasing gun controls was "a priority of the president's."
"He does have a commitment to trying to make progress on this issue, that there are some commonsense things that can be done that would make our communities safer and not infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans," Earnest said.