President Barack Obama said Thursday the South Carolina church shooting that left nine people dead shows the need for a national reckoning on gun violence in America.
All too often, Obama said, he has been called to the microphone to mourn the deaths of innocents killed by those “who had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
“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,” Obama said. “It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it.”
Obama said that he and Vice President Joe Biden both spoke with Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley to express condolences. The president said he and first lady Michelle Obama knew several parishioners at Emanuel AME church, including the church's pastor, South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was among those killed.
“Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church,” Obama said. “This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers 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. This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.”
Earlier, federal authorities said they would investigate the shooting as a “hate crime.” The U.S. Department of Justice said the investigation – which involves the department's Civil Rights Division, FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina – would be “parallel to and cooperative with the state's investigation.”
While he did not give any further details on the federal investigation, Obama acknowledged the civil rights issues at stake. “The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” Obama said. “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 spoke from the White House before departing on a weekend fundraising trip to California. Biden joined Obama in the briefing room for the statement.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press