President Barack Obama addressed the intersection of race, poverty, and violence at a memorial today for one of the nine people shot and killed in the South Carolina church massacre, urging people to remember the shootings that happen every day in America.
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation,” he said to a crowd of thousands at the College of Charleston arena. Mass shootings grab our attention, he said, “but I also hope we see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day,” he said, referring to the number of murder victims by firearms. In total, 86 Americans die each day from gun-related suicide, homicide, and accidents, including an average of seven children.
Speaking before lawmakers, congregants, and a gospel choir at a memorial for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, the murdered pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Obama spoke at length on the topic of race and devoted a few remarks to gun violence, saying that it would be a be a “betrayal” of everything the Rev. Pinckney stood for if the country didn’t take action in the wake of his shooting death.
In his two terms as president, Obama has delivered eulogies at memorial services for three mass shootings: the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Tucson in 2011, and Newtown in 2012. In his address at a memorial for the six victims of the Tucson shooting, which severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and ultimately ended her congressional career, Obama sidestepped prescriptions for tackling the country’s gun violence epidemic and, just as he did today, called for unity following the shooting of a sitting lawmaker. The Tucson address met with wide praise from the GOP: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for instance, said at the time that the speech fit the moment exactly.
But two years later, at an interfaith memorial service after the Newtown shooting, he decried the idea that gun violence and mass shootings are the norm in America, and pledged to take aggressive action. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he said.
One his biographers, David Maraniss, referred to the president’s remarks as his “Gettysburg Address.” But what followed was a series of legislative failures, most notably the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey gun amendment, which would have required criminal background checks on all private gun sales, and called for the creation of a commission to study the causes of violence, among other things. The inability to pass meaningful gun reform in the wake of Newtown, Obama said earlier this week, disgusted him.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Charleston shooting will spur legislative success. Earlier this week, Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey separately floated the idea of resurrecting their bill. “We want to make sure we have the votes,” Manchin said.
[Photo: AP/ David Goldman]