As It Happens

Charleston mayor says US must do more to tackle gun control

Since the murder of nine African-American parishioners in Charleston last week, the Confederate Battle flag has dominated public discourse, while another central issue had gone largely undiscussed: gun control.
A woman visits a sidewalk memorial in front of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The front page headline in the Charleston Post and Courier last Thursday screamed "Church attack kills 9." And just above it, blocking out part of the paper's name, was a stick-on ad for a local gun range. 

In the week since the murder of nine African-American parishioners, much of the public discussion has focused on the Confederate Battle flag that flies above the state capitol grounds, while another central issue had gone largely undiscussed: gun control.  There has been markedly less discussion about the semi-automatic handgun allegedly used by Dylann Roof to carry out the killings. 

The mayor of Charleston would like to see that change. 

"More people should [be talking about gun control] in South Carolina and in our country. The presence, the easy access, the availability of hand guns in America is just wrong. "It's a terrible public policy," says Joseph Riley.

President Obama spoke to the issue last week, in an interview shortly after the shootings, but he didn't sound overly hopeful that meaningful gun control legislation was possible in the near future. 

"I don't foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves this isn't normal. This is something that we can change, and we`re going to change it."

Mayor Riley said he wasn't surprised by the somewhat-defeated tone of the President's comments, given that he tried and failed to toughen gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings that left 26 people dead in Connecticut 2012, including 20 children. But Riley felt it was the responsibility of all lawmakers to continue the effort. 

"I wouldn't be doing my job as the mayor of the city where nine people were killed by someone who came in from out of town, 110 miles away, and used a handgun to kill nine precious innocent people who were in church studying the Bible."

He said the strength of the National Rifle Association has made meaningful gun control daunting, and called some of the group's more extreme rhetoric "insane." On the day of the shooting, Charles Cotton, a longtime NRA board member, reportedly wrote on a Texas gun-rights forum that one of the Charleston victims, pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was responsible for his own murder and those of his congregants because of his opposition to looser concealed-carry laws in the state.

When asked if he felt the discussions that have swirled around the Confederate Battle flag in South Carolina were a useful distraction from the more difficult debate over gun control, Riley disagreed, saying the Confederate flag was an important issue that also needed to be dealt with. 

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