President Obama on Thursday said a mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., should be a wake-up call for America to confront the issue of gun violence.
In a brief but emotional statement, Obama lamented that Washington has been unwilling to enact changes to the nation’s gun laws following a series of mass shootings.
“Now is a time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said.
Joined by Vice President Biden, Obama cited the Charleston shooting as another example of innocent people being killed “because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
“It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” he said. “It is in our power to do something about it."
Nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston Wednesday night after a shooter allegedly opened fire on congregants about an hour after services began.
The Department of Justice launched a hate-crime investigation into the shooting. State authorities are conducting a separate probe in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The suspect, identified as Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man, was taken into custody Thursday morning.
Obama has been confronted with several high-profile mass shootings during his presidency, including ones in Tucson, Ariz; Aurora, Colo; and Newtown, Conn.
Thursday marked the fourteenth time the president made a statement on a shooting attack, according to CBS News reporter and unofficial White House historian Mark Knoller. Obama’s frustration was palpable during his seven-and-a-half minute statement.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” he said. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”
Obama’s efforts to enact stronger federal gun laws in the wake of the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., were stymied in Congress. The changes, which included expanded background checks and bans on assault weapons, faced staunch opposition from congressional Republicans and gun-rights groups.
With just 18 months left in his presidency, Obama appeared resigned to the likelihood of leaving office without any of those gun policies enacted.
“The politics in this town foreclose a lot of the avenues right now,” the president said. “But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And it some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it.”
Unlike other high-profile mass shootings during Obama’s tenure, the Charleston attack appears to have a racial component. The Emanuel AME Church is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest AME church in the South. Civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., appeared at the church during the 1960s.
Obama said the shooting invoked a “dark part of our history” because it happened at a black church that faced years of persecution.
“This is a church that was burned to the ground, because its worshippers worked to end slavery,” he said. “This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America."
He quoted Rev. Martin Luther King’s eulogy for four girls killed in the infamous 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.
“Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream,” Obama said.
— This story was last updated at 1:45 p.m.