WASHINGTON -- Recalling the shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders as the worst day of his presidency, President Barack Obama pledged to put his "full weight" behind legislation aimed at preventing gun violence.
Mr. Obama voiced skepticism about the National Rifle Association's proposal to put armed guards in schools following the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The president made his comments Saturday in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Instead, the president vowed to rally the American people around an agenda to limit gun violence, adding that he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. He left no doubt it will be one of his top priorities next year.
"It is not enough for us to say, 'This is too hard, so we're not going to try,' " Mr. Obama said.
"I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high-capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids," he added. "And, yes, it's going to be hard."
The president added that he's ready to meet with Republicans and Democrats, anyone with a stake in the issue.
The schoolhouse shootings, coming as families prepared for the holidays, have elevated the issue of gun violence to the forefront of public attention. Six adult staff members were also killed at the elementary school. Shooter Adam Lanza committed suicide, apparently as police closed in. Earlier, he had killed his mother at the home they shared.
The tragedy immediately prompted calls for greater gun controls. But the NRA is strongly resisting those efforts, arguing instead that schools should have armed guards for protection. Some gun enthusiasts have rushed to buy semiautomatic rifles of the type used by Lanza, fearing sales may soon be restricted.
Mr. Obama seemed unimpressed by the NRA proposal. "I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools," he said. "And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem."
The president said he intends to press the issue with the public.
"The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away," Mr. Obama said. "It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that -- you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated."
Besides passing gun violence legislation, Mr. Obama also listed deficit reduction and immigration as top priorities for 2013. A big deficit reduction deal with Republicans proved elusive this month, and Mr. Obama is now hoping Senate Democratic and Republican leaders salvage a scaled-back plan that avoids tax increases for virtually all Americans.
Referring to an independent inquiry's report on the attack against the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, Mr. Obama said the security and management flaws identified were "huge problems" that reflected "sloppiness" in how the State Department safeguards its missions abroad.
In his most detailed comments yet on the attack in Benghazi, the president reaffirmed a decision by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to carry out all 29 of the panel's recommendations, including dispatching 225 additional Marine guards to embassies and consulates and revamping how threat warnings are used to secure diplomatic posts overseas.
"My message to the State Department has been very simple, and that is we're going to solve this," Mr. Obama said. "We're not going to be defensive about it; we're not going to pretend that this was not a problem -- this was a huge problem."
He said one major finding -- that the State Department relied too heavily on untested local Libyan militias to safeguard the compound in Benghazi -- reflected "internal reviews" by the government.
Four State Department officials were removed from their posts this month after the five-member panel led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering criticized the "grossly inadequate" security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi that was attacked Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The New York Times contributed.