On Wednesday evening, nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, after white 21-year-old male suspect Dylann Storm Roof opened fire in the church.
— Mike Manzoni (@MikeWSPA) June 18, 2015
Thursday afternoon President Obama addressed reporters to make a speech that, in many ways, has become all too familiar.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) June 18, 2015
"I've had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times."
Obama placed the shootings — which authorities say they are treating as a hate crime — into a context of both a pattern of violence against black communities in America and the country's particular history of mass murder with firearms.
"We don’t have all the facts,” the president said, “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. Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear: 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. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."
And yet time and again, Americans have failed to wield that power.
Particularly after the Newtown Connecticut shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 20 children and 6 teachers after killing his own mother and eventually taking his own life — the American people expected movement towards reform.
At the time, on Dec. 14, 2012, Obama already had a laundry list of previous incidents to refer back to:
"As a country we have been through this too many times, whether it's an Elementary school in Newtown, a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago. These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. We're going to have to come together to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
But the politics did indeed get in the way.
Just days later, Wayne Lapierre, the president of the National Rifle Association, was calling for armed guards in all schools, asserting that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
And when the GOP defeated even Obama's modest gun reform proposals in April 2013, the president was visibly angry, and called the obstruction "shameful."
The last piece of gun reform legislation — which required a background check for firearms purchases — was defeated by Senate Republicans and a handful of more conservative Democrats. It went the way of proposals to ban assault rifles and extended magazine clips which allow shooters to fire more rounds before become vulnerable while they reload.
Despite polls showing that 90% of Americans supported such measures, they failed to get necessary votes to be made law. The president excoriated the gun lobby and those that caved to their tactics.
"Instead of supporting this compromise the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. they claimed it would make some sort of big brother gun registry….Unfortunately this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose — because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators."
In fact, some people tried to push the laws in the opposite direction — to make guns even more widely available, by, for example, allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons at schools.
The Florida House bill, HB 19, for example, would have allowed public school employees to carry concealed weapons on school campuses for protection, but would require background checks and receive training at law-enforcement academies for those allowed to carry the weapons.
— Paul Danahar (@pdanahar) June 18, 2015
Speaking of the defeat of his popularly supported reform proposals, Obama had warned that those pushing for gun control would have to "sustain some passion" to achieve their goals, and overcome the opposition of the NRA.
But one notes that the president's most recent statement lacked some of that passion, or outrage or the calls to action in his remarks to the Sandy Hook prayer vigil, two days after the Newtown shooting.
"We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction…We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"
Over two years after the president posed that question, it seems the politics have indeed been too hard.
Gun Problem, Race Problem, or Both?
Meanwhile there are those that comment that gun reform itself won't be enough to combat the other struggle highlighted by the Charleston attack — the long American history of racist violence against the black community.
— W. E. Baé Du Bois (@alwaystheself) June 18, 2015
— Tyree Boyd-Pates (@TyreeBP) June 18, 2015
Of course some news outlets are already trying to sidestep the issue of race, and Fox News has already caught backlash for characterizing the attack by a white man with a history of racist behavior on a black church of symbolic significance an "attack on faith" rather than a hate crime.
Others note the difference in treatment for white perpetrators of mass shootings and people of color who commit violent crime.
— Adnan Ali ➊➋➌ (@adnan04ar01) June 18, 2015
And while the Charleston terrorist attack has reignited debates about gun reform and racist violence, the intersection of the two gives little hope that this incident will finally be the turning point for meaningful action to prevent future mass shootings, racially motivated or otherwise.
— Samuel H. Taylor (@Samuel_Hudson) June 18, 2015