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President Barack Obama on Thursday addressed the horrific South Carolina church shooting in emotional remarks that invoked America's turbulent racial history and the heated politics over gun control.
“I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions tragedies like this raise,” the president said. “I’ve had to make comments like this too many times. 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 hands on a gun.”
The president increasingly has spoken out about racial tensions after fatal encounters between law enforcement and unarmed black men. And, following the fatal school shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the president pushed for stricter gun control measures in a legislative effort that ultimately failed.
On Thursday, the president revisited those issues.
“Now is the time for mourning and 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,” the president said as he stood next to Vice President Joe Biden. "It is in our power to do something about it… I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”
The president said he and first lady Michelle Obama have relationships with many of the church’s parishioners — including its slain pastor.
“The fact that this took place in a black church also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” the president said. He went on to invoke Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy for four little girls who died in a church firebombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, saying, “'They lived meaningful lives and they died nobly.'”
The president spoke shortly after police caught the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, 21, whom sources say arrived at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church nearly an hour before opening fire Wednesday night.
President Obama called South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the wake of the church shootings, according to a source in the governor's office. They spoke while the president was on Air Force One en route to California.
Shortly before the president's televised remarks, Attorney General Loretta Lynch also spoke about the deadly shooting at the historic South Carolina church.
"As we move forward, my thoughts and prayers and those of our entire law enforcement community, here at the Department of Justice and around the country, are with the families and loved ones of the victims in Charleston," Lynch said on Thursday. "Even as we struggle to comprehend this heartbreaking event, I want everyone in Charleston — and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy — to know that we will do everything in our power to help heal this community and make it whole again."