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Gun Reform Actors Take In Charleston Shooting

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The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

On Wednesday night, nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot to death during a bible study. The shooting once again brings the conversation around gun control reform to the forefront.Law enforcement arrested 21-year-old Dylaan Roof during a traffic stop Thursday morning in North Carolina about 245 miles from Charleston. The white male is accused of shooting and killing nine people with a .45-caliber pistol inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The ages of the six women and three men ranged from 26 to 87. Roof was scheduled for a bond hearing Friday afternoon in South Carolina. President Obama addressed the shooting Thursday afternoon, saying he’s had to make statements like this too many times.

“Now is the time for mourning and for healing,” Obama said. “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. And 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. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.”

President Obama says the FBI has opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting. In the Northeast, the shooting has revived a conversation that has been going for years. A number of gun control reform efforts have been launched across the country since the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The tragedy left 26 people dead. Laws have been enacted in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut because of those efforts, but not on a federal level. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, says his most disappointing day in politics was when a background checks bill failed in the Senate. Murphy spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner hours before the Charleston shooting.

“It’s just really amazing how callous we’ve become to the epidemic levels of gun violence,” Murphy said. “I’m just going to continue to try to find as many ways as I can to address this. It’s not that I’ve given up on a background checks bill, I just know that with Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate we’re not going to get a background checks done in the next year and a half unless there is another massacre of Newtown scale. God help us if that happens.”

The National Rifle Association opposes background checks at the federal and state levels. Responding to legislation filed in the House earlier this year that would expand background checks, NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox says if gun control advocates “were serious about solving underlying problems they would work to reform our broken mental health system, not attack the rights of America's 100 million gun owners.” Jim Wallace is executive director of the 16,000-member Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts. He says background checks are already part of addressing mental health issues, but there are limitations.

“The problem may be on the local level, if people aren’t getting the treatment they need, if they don’t have access depending upon what level of mental health issues they have, they’re probably not getting into the system,” Wallace said. “I think it’s a much bigger issue. The system is already there, I just don’t think it’s being utilized correctly.”

Wallace says mental health and firearms need to be addressed as separate issues. 

“There are obviously some issues with this young man that should’ve been caught a long time ago and until we start to address those I think we are still going to be in trouble as a country,” said Wallace.

Wallace says Massachusetts hasn’t come close to addressing mental health issues. Having found common ground in the mostly Democratic state of Massachusetts, he says gun owners pride themselves on reaching across the aisle and addressing core issues that create unlawful firearm use. Senator Murphy seems to think mental health could be addressed on a federal level.

“But, we can take a look at the mental health system and say this is part of the problem,” Murphy said. “It’s not all of the problem. It’s part of the problem that we have very sick individuals that don’t get access to mental health services. I’m working on a bill with a handful of conservative Republicans to try to do a big holistic reform of our mental health system. That will be part of the solution hopefully.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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