President Barack Obama implored hundreds of U.S. mayors on Friday to refuse to accept gun violence and mass shootings as “the new normal” and combat killings with stricter gun control laws.
In his second call for tighter gun restrictions since nine people were killed Wednesday inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., Obama told about 300 mayors that gun regulations could save lives.
Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Obama invoked other recent tragedies, like the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., or the movie theater slayings in Aurora, Colo., as examples of the damage guns can inflict on communities.
“I refuse to act as though this is the new normal or pretend that it is simply sufficient to grieve and that any mention of doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem,” Obama said. “No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence, but we might still have some more Americans with us. Some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.”
The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., hung over the conference as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson opened the event Friday with a moment of silence and Obama noted the mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley, was not in attendance because he was “back home, performing one of a mayor’s sadder, more important duties today.”
On Wednesday, Dylann Roof, 21, allegedly sat in on a Bible study group at the historic AME church before killing nine people in a spray of bullets.
Authorities are investigating the incident as a hate crime after one witness said Roof told her he wanted to kill black people.
“Obviously, the entire country has been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston,” Obama said. “The nature of this attack, in a place of worship, where congregants invited a stranger to worship with them only to be gunned down, adds to the pain. The apparent motivation of the shooter reminds us that racism remains a blight we must combat together.”
Johnson, whose tenure as president of the U.S Conference of Mayors will conclude this weekend, said he was thankful that Obama addressed the issue of guns head-on.
“This dialogue needs to start taking place in a real, meaningful way,” Johnson said in an interview after Obama’s address. “(Obama) is not shying away.”
Obama did not discuss any specific policies or strategies to curb access or use of guns during his speech Friday.
Obama’s previous effort to push stricter gun laws through Congress in 2012 was in response to a mass shooting that left more than two dozen children and educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was unsuccessful because of Republican opposition.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said it’s “naive” to think that getting rid of guns will stop violent people from committing “unspeakable crimes” like the Charleston shooting.
“People who want to do horrible things have availed themselves of bombs and other weapons,” Paredes said in an interview Friday. “As long as we continue to focus on the instruments of evil, we cannot get to the root of why this evil is being committed.”
Paredes did not attend Obama’s speech.
Paredes said that by using his address at the mayors conference to promote gun control measures, Obama was capitalizing on a national tragedy and attempting to push gun reforms he has touted since his election in 2008.
“He has a gun control agenda that has nothing to do with this tragedy,” Paredes said.
In his speech, Obama acknowledged the difficulties of enacting federal gun control laws, saying “today’s politics makes it less likely that we will see any sort of serious gun safety legislation.”
“I want to be clear,” Obama said. “I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing.”
As he looked out into a crowd of hundreds of mayors and city officials from around the country, Obama appealed to their ability to enact change on a local level and asked that they help jump-start a call to action about guns.
“It is not good enough to show sympathy,” the president said. “We need a change in attitude among everybody. We have to have a conversation about it and fix this. Ultimately, Congress acts when the public insists upon action.”