President Barack Obama said Thursday that he feels heartache, sadness and anger about the mass shooting at a Charleston church that killed nine, including the pastor who was a state legislator.
“Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy,” Obama said. “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.”
A somber Obama, appearing alongside Vice President Joe Biden, told reporters gathered at the White House briefing room that he and his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, knew several people who attended the church as well as the pastor.
“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. 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 hand on a gun.”
By some accounts, Obama has made 14 statements after mass shootings, including a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.; at a shopping center in Clackamas, Ore.; and at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“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.”
Obama again made an emotional plea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass laws restricting guns. He asked them to pass the nation’s most aggressive gun-control plan in generations after the Newtown shooting in the hopes of decreasing the number of mass shootings and acts of random violence that occur every day in America.
But Congress disregarded much of his agenda, which included banning assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, requiring background checks on all gun purchases, penalizing those who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, hiring 1,000 more school resource officers and spending millions more on training, research and counseling.
“It is in our power to do something about it,” he said. “I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge it, and at some point, it's going to important for the American to come to grips with it and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”
Obama spoke about the church just before departing for California for a multi-day trip.
“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 worshipers worked to end slavery,” Obama said. “When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted church services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country in closer 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.”