President Obama on Thursday linked gun control to the Charleston church shooting in his first statement on Thursday, saying the nation needed to “come to grips” with the issue in the wake of the massacre that killed nine people.
“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,” Obama said. "And it is in our power to do something about it."
Obama’s Justice Department is investigating the mass shooting as a hate crime. But as the president addressed the tragedy in the White House briefing room, he also turned to politics -- trying to focus the national conversation not just on race and violence, but gun laws.
Once again, the president said, someone who wanted to do harm “had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” The man arrested in the killings, Dylann Roof, reportedly received a .45-caliber pistol from his father for his 21st birthday in April.
Despite his raising the issue, Obama seemed aware of the challenge of passing any gun control measures in the current environment, saying “politics” in Washington “foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”
Obama referred again to the shooting Thursday evening at a Los Angeles fundraiser hosted by actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry.
"To see such a horrific event unfold like that is particularly shocking," he said, "and it's a reminder that we've got a lot of work to do."
Obama also called on the 250 event attendees, which included "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and star January Jones and former NBA player Jason Collins, to act for the change they wanted.
"If you're dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilize and organize a constituency that says this is not normal and we are going to change it and put pressure to elect people who insist on that change," he said to sustained applause.
Speaking after previous mass shootings, Obama has on several occasions said more gun laws could help prevent such violence.
After the shooting at the Sandy Hook, Conn., Elementary School in 2012, the Obama administration launched a push with pro-gun control allies in Congress to pass new gun and background check restrictions. The effort failed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.