Obama Says The Charleston Church Shooting Underscores The Very Real Need For Gun Reform
On Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke at a somber press conference regarding Wednesday night's shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina historically black church. Suspected gunman Dylann Roof was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina and taken into custody Thursday morning, but the shooting has, like others before it, contributed to the ongoing national conversation about gun and racial violence.
"To say our thoughts and our prayers are with them, their families and community doesn't say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel," Obama said. "Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship”
Obama said he and Vice President Joe Biden have reached out to community and political leaders in South Carolina to express their "deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night" at the church affectionately known as "Mother Emanuel." Obama also noted that he and First Lady Michelle Obama knew several members of the Emanuel AME Church, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered last night along with eight others.
In his speech, Obama addressed the poignant history of the Emanuel AME Church and its role in the civil rights movement. "Mother Emanuel is in fact more than a church," Obama said. "This was a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This was 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."
Perhaps the most important takeaway from Obama's speech was his frank call for gun control.
"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," Obama said. "Now is the time for mourning and for healing but let's be clear: At some point we as a country have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn't happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And at some point it's going to be important for ... us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively."
Obama also addressed the parallels between this massacre and the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing that killed four young girls, citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Eulogy for the Martyred Children in a call for greater unity.
"This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked and we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals," Obama said.
The good news is that I'm confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and love and fellowship across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome ... Mother Emanuel Church and its congregation have risen before, from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times ... and with our prayers and our love and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.
Obama's statement came after a speech by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was just sworn in yesterday. In her speech, Lynch said that the Justice Department had opened a hate crime investigation in Charleston led by the Charleston Police Department, the FBI, and other agencies. Nancy Pelosi and Rev. Al Sharpton have also both spoken out about the shooting, with Pelosi saying that she "thought maybe they were reporting on the anniversary of something that happened a long, long time ago" and Sharpton indicating that he was "shocked and outraged."
“What has our society come to when people in a prayer meeting in the sacred halls of a church can be shot in what is deemed a possible hate crime?” Sharpton asked.