AFRICANGLOBE – Reactions to mass shootings in the United States admit little variation. Gun control groups diagnose an epidemic, the president declares a crisis and gun advocates prescribe more guns.
After nine people were killed on Wednesday inside a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, that pattern has largely held – with the glaring exception of one extraordinary comment by a board member of the National Rifle Association, who suggested that worshippers who died in their own church “might be alive” if they had been carrying guns themselves.
The NRA, the largest and most powerful gun advocacy group in the world, typically mutes itself after mass shootings, and demands that others follow suit out of respect for the dead. The group’s social-media accounts, normally used to promulgate weapons enthusiasm, fall silent.
On Friday, an NRA spokesperson hewed to that strategy, saying that the group would have no comment “until all the facts are known”.
“We are praying for the victims and their families and, given the tragic loss, we don’t think this is the time for a political debate,” spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told reporters.
Board member Charles Cotton, however, strayed from the script late on Thursday, when he posted a comment online blaming the pastor killed in the South Carolina shooting, Clementa Pinckney, for the death of his eight congregants.
Cotton, who did not return a message left at his Houston-area law firm, pointed out on a Texas gun forum that Pinckney was a state senator who had voted against a law allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without permits.
“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead,” Cotton wrote. “Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”
“Individual board members do not speak for the NRA,” Baker said.
The remark has since been deleted. The comment was unusually direct in blaming the victims of gun violence for gun violence. However, like other reactions following mass shootings – from the White House on down – the remark was also an echo.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the NRA’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, said after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary in December 2012. Then he called on Congress to “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation”.
South Carolina state senator Lee Bright, a Republican who has sponsored legislation to allow citizens to openly carry guns in public, said he supported the right to carry guns in churches, in the interest of self-defense. But he also believes in deferring to the wishes of the property owner. In South Carolina it is legal to carry guns in houses of worship if the leadership allows it.
“If the leader of the church doesn’t allow you to carry, then obviously you don’t have to go into that church,” Bright said in a phone interview. “I do not know what the policy was at that particular church.”
Bright called national gun laws a “hodgepodge”.
“In South Carolina, when I’m driving my car, my weapon has to be concealed,” he said. “When I go up [Interstate] 85, and cross into North Carolina, my weapon has to be visible. In the space of one mile I have to pull over and take out my gun.”
Allison Anderman, an attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates for gun legislation reform, said the contention that guns stop gun violence was unrealistic.
“The fantasy that someone could react in an active shooter situation to disarm the shooter is just that, a fantasy,” she said. “When you have a roomful of people with guns it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand what’s likely to happen.”
After the latest mass shooting, gun control groups emphasized the redundancy of the problem.
“Once again, a senseless act of gun violence has brought terror, tragedy and pain to one of our communities,” said a statement from Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group affiliated with former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and astronaut Mark Kelly.
Addressing the mass shooting on Thursday, President Barack Obama also found himself repeating himself. “At some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively,” he said at the White House.
The words recalled an impassioned speech he gave in April 2013 after the failure in the Senate of legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchases. “When Newtown happened, I met with these families and I spoke to the community, and I said, something must be different right now,” Obama said then. “We’re going to have to change. That’s what the whole country said … Sooner or later, we are going to get this right.”
Late on Friday, Obama made a more forceful call for action, saying his earlier comments had been misinterpreted.
“I am not resigned,” he said. “I have faith that we will eventually do the right thing. I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency.”
Anderman, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it was too early to speculate about what laws may have prevented the suspect in the attack, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, from acquiring a weapon. Roof’s criminal record reflects that he was arrested and charged with felony possession of Suboxone, a narcotic prescription drug. Due to this record, he would not have been able to buy it from a dealer or a store, which is required run a federal background check.
The law center annually grades all 50 states’ gun laws. In 2014, the group gave South Carolina a failing grade for its less restrictive laws. The state does not require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed individuals; nor the reporting of mental health information to the federal database. The state also does not regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines.
This time around, it was left to Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, to find new language to describe the shooting.
“This was not merely a mass shooting. Not merely an incident of gun violence,” Brooks said Friday. “This was a racial hate crime.”
For all the rote speech that attends mass shootings in the United States, “racial hate crime” stood out as an uncommon phrase.
By: Tom McCarthy And Lauren Gambino