President Obama told American mayors on Friday that it's not enough to show empathy for victims of gun violence but that leaders must also push for a change in public opinion that supports gun control.
If the country feels a sense of urgency to cut the availability of guns like the one used this week to commit mass murder in Charleston, S.C., members of Congress will follow their lead, the president said.
"Every country has violent, hateful or mentally unstable people," Obama said. "What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns."
"At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens" as a result, Obama said. "It is not good enough simply to show sympathy."
The remarks came in an address to the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an assembly of hundreds in a massive hotel ballroom here. Many in the group applauded vigorously as Obama spoke about guns.
Mayors figured prominently in Obama's push for gun control early in his second term after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The effort turned out to be one of the biggest failures of his presidency and left White House officials resigned to the realities of gun control politics.
But the Charleston shootings have prompted Obama to discuss gun control anew.
On Friday, he turned to old allies in the fight.
He brought his case to mayors, Obama said, because mayors typically don't have the luxury of "blather." They get things done, he said.
"As much as we grieve this particular tragedy," Obama said of this week's killings, leaders must "step back and recognize these tragedies have become far too commonplace."
Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors, who attend the funerals, oversee the police response and deal with the reverberations.
"It tears the fabric of the community," Obama said. "It costs this country dearly."
"Today's politics makes it less likely … that this Congress would act," he acknowledged. But he added: "I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing."