Obama must keep pressure on for gun control

In addressing the egregious massacre at the hallowed Emanuel A.M.E. Church Charleston, S.C., President Obama struck a somber note of anger -- moderated, however, by a sense of futility over the prospect of stemming the gun mayhem that wrought it.

"I've had to make statements like this too many times," he said. "Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. ... (O)nce again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting (his) hands on a gun."


Then he added: "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. And it is in our power do so something about it."

So far, so good. Then he said he recognized that "the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively."

At some point? That point is now, as he made clear himself, noting that Mother Emanuel (as the church is known reverentially in Charleston and elsewhere in the black church community) "is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery. ... This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America."

With some irony, possibly unrecognized by the president, he quoted what Dr. Martin Luther King said of the occasion of the bombing of the Birmingham black church in which four little girls were killed more than half a century ago.

In their deaths, he said, "They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution ... that we must be concerned not merely with who murdered them but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers."

Mr. Obama should have added there must be greater concern about the means of the executions -- the weapon, a handgun, with which the perpetrator committed the outrageously heinous deed. In speaking of "the politics in this town," he referred to the lobbying clout of the National Rifle Association and other gun enthusiasts, as well as the Supreme Court that has sanctified the Second Amendment as an inviolate right to bear arms.

The earlier failure of the intense effort led by Vice President Joe Biden to get Congress to enact even modest limits on access to weapons of mayhem after the Sandy Hook School slaughter seems to have dictated Obama's immediate counsel of caution.

He took note of what he called "the good news" that "the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship, indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome."

But where was a call from America's president to seize the Charleston obscenity as a critical turning point with which to link civil rights, humanity and common sense to mobilize another, more courageous and determined campaign to get Congress to act?

Mr. Obama said he would "let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served" against the confessed perpetrator, and that "now is the time for mourning and healing." To that end, he is to deliver a eulogy for the victims at the funeral service at the Emanuel AME Church today, with Biden also attending.

But what happened in Charleston cries out for such an even more intensified crash effort now, rallying "all races, all faiths, all places of worship" led aggressively by the by the president himself, to finally and decisively confront America's two most conspicuous social epidemics -- racial hatred and the gun mayhem it continues to invoke.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is