President Barack Obama made a forceful plea on Friday for Congress to enact “common-sense gun reforms,” in the wake of the shooting massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina this week.
“I refuse to act like this is the new normal,” the president told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco. “Or to act like doing something to stop it is politicizing the problem.”
Obama had already argued for the necessity of new gun laws Thursday morning, but had said that he recognized “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”
That led some critics to describe the president as “resigned” to inaction on the issue of gun violence.
On Friday in San Francisco, Obama denied that characterization. “I am not resigned. I have faith that we will do the right thing,” he said. “I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to stop being confused. It’s not good enough to simply show sympathy.”
The president argued that the nation’s unique rate of gun violence could not be attributed exclusively to mental illness, saying, “Every country has violent, hateful, unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.”
However, he did acknowledge the apparent role of racial hatred in the murders at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. ”The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight we have to combat together,” he said.
The overwhelming focus of the president’s comments though was the need to change attitudes on gun reform.
“Congress acts when the public insists on action,” he said. “We have to shift how we think about this issue. We have to feel a sense of urgency about it. We have to change.”But Obama’s faith that a change in public opinion could force congressional action on guns didn’t quite square with a line from earlier in his speech. Speaking of missed opportunities to combat gun violence, the president said, “If Congress had passed common sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, reforms that 90% supported, we don’t know if it could have prevented Charleston, but might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole.” In late 2012, a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of 26 people including 20 young schoolchildren.
The president has addressed shooting incidents 14 times during his seven-year tenure in the White House, but the tragedy in Charleston marks the first time he personally knew someone who was killed.
“Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night. And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel,” Obama said Thursday.
In the past, Obama has said his “biggest frustration” during his presidency has been the failure to “keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.”