President Obama Thursday called the murders at a historically black church in South Carolina “senseless” and used the tragedy to renew his call for gun control.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “It is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics of this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it’d be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.”
The president also said the U.S. must “reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries.”
The president didn’t make any specific gun proposals, saying it was a time for mourning first. It was the 14th time during his presidency that Mr. Obama has addressed the nation about incidents of gun violence.
He said he and first lady Michelle Obama know some of the members of the church, including at least one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
“There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place where we seek solace and peace,” Mr. Obama said.
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But the president spoke with frustration at the level of gun violence in the U.S., and said policymakers must act sooner or later.
“Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
He went on, “Let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. At some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it.”
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who led earlier administration efforts to impose stricter gun regulations, said the church shootings should compel the country to act.
“As a nation, we must confront the ravages of gun violence and the stain of hatred that continues to be visited on our streets, in our schools, in our houses of worship and in our communities,” Mr. Biden said in a statement with his wife, Jill. “Hate has once again been let loose in an American community.”
The Bidens saw the Pinckney less than a year ago at a prayer breakfast in Columbia, S.C., and called him “a good man, a man of faith, a man of service.”
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Since losing an effort in Congress to impose background checks on gun purchases in 2013, Mr. Obama has not made another broad, high-profile push for gun regulation.
The president highlighted the racial aspect of the killings, saying the fact that the shootings took place in a black church “also raises questions about a dark part of our history.”
“This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked,” Mr. Obama said. “We know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”
He said he’s confident that the outpouring of support “from all races from all faiths, from all places of worship, indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.”
Referring to the church’s historic role in the abolition and civil-rights movements, Mr. Obama called the house of worship “a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.”
“This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty,” he said. “This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.”
Mr. Obama made his comments moments before he flew off on a fundraising trip to California, where he’ll attend three events with wealthy donors, including one hosted by actor Tyler Perry.