Declaring that he refused to “act as if this is the new normal”, President Barack Obama on Friday called for a national moment of soul-searching over gun violence, in his second statement in as many days on Wednesday’s mass shooting inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone,” Obama said in an afternoon appearance at a national conference of mayors in San Francisco. “If Congress had passed some commonsense legislation after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom, reforms that 90% of the American people supported … we might still have more Americans with us.”
The words echoed a statement the president delivered at the White House on Thursday, in which he said that “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”.
Gun advocacy groups including the National Rifle Association have said a new national debate over guns was inappropriate so soon after the massacre, in which nine African Americans were shot dead inside Emanuel AME church. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man said to have yelled racist taunts before he shot, was arrested on Thursday and charged with the crime.
In his statement to the mayors, the president rejected a foreclosure of the gun debate. He said repeated incidences of mass shootings made a serious national discussion about gun control more urgent.
“As much as we grieve this particular tragedy, it’s important to step back and recognize that these tragedies have become far too commonplace,” Obama said.
Over the course of his presidency, Obama has delivered similar statements expressing shock and dismay, and calling for change, after other mass shootings. Victims have included soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in two separate incidents; wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, and six others who were killed; moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado; worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut; and people at a Washington DC naval base.
In his statement, the president said that Congress should follow the will of the people, and that the national will had shown itself capable of rapid change on issues such as same-sex marriage and, more incrementally, on climate change.
The same can happen with gun control, Obama said.
“I am not resigned,” he said. “I have faith that we will eventually do the right thing. I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency.
“At some point as a country, we have to reckon with what happens. It’s not enough to express sympathy. You don’t see this kind of murder, on this scale, with this kind of frequency in other advanced countries on earth.”