Obama to US Mayors on Guns: “We Need a Change in Attitude. We Have to Fix This.”

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, the president escalates his argument for gun reform.


Two days after the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama continued to speak out about the politics of guns. Commenting in the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Thursday, Obama pointed out the failure of Congress to act after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, which he cited last year as the “biggest frustration” of his presidency. On Friday, speaking in San Francisco at the annual US Conference of Mayors, Obama called on city leaders from across the country to address gun violence. This time, his frustration seemed tinged with a hint of anger. “At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens,” he said. “It is not good enough simply to show sympathy.”

Here is the full transcript of his remarks on guns from the above video:

Obviously, the entire country’s been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston. The nature of this attack in a place of worship, where congregates invite in a stranger to worship with them only to be gunned down, adds to the pain. The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together. We have made great progress, but we have to be vigilant, because it still lingers. And when it’s poisoning the minds of young people, it betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.

Whether it’s a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.

But as much as we grieve this particular tragedy, I think it’s important, as I had mentioned at the White House, to step back and recognize that these tragedies have become far too commonplace. Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors do. Whether it’s a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.

More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone. Eleven thousand. If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classrooms, reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported, we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most. We don’t know it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.

We should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens without demonizing all gun owners, who are overwhelmingly law abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody’s guns away. I know today’s politics makes it less likely that we see any sort of series of gun safety legislation. I remarked that it was very unlikely that this Congress would act. And some reporters, I think, took this as resignation.

You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.

I want to be clear. I’m not resigned. I have faith 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. Ultimately Congress will follow the people. We have to stop being confused about this. At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens. It is not good enough simply to show sympathy. You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.

And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal. Or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is politicizing the problem. [ Applause ] We need a change in attitude, among everybody. Lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns, we have to have a conversation about it and fix this. And ultimately Congress acts when the public insists on action. And we’ve seen how public opinion can change. We’ve seen it change on gay marriage. We’ve seen it beginning to change on climate change. We’ve got to shift how we think about this issue. And we have the capacity to change. But we have to feel a sense of urgency about it. We as a people have got to change. That’s how we honor those families. That’s how we honor the families in Newtown. That’s how we honor the families in Aurora.