How many more people have to get gunned down under shocking circumstances before we give up our attachment to guns?
After each mass killing — whether it occurred at a school in rural America, in a suburban movie theater, and now in a historic black church — I wonder what else has to happen.
On Wednesday, a white man walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina — the oldest church in the South — and fatally shot nine people during a midweek Bible study.
The dead included the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator. The other victims ranged in age from 26 to 87 years old.
The suspect, who was apprehended in North Carolina, has been identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, of Lexington, South Carolina.
According to surviving witnesses, Roof sat with worshippers for an hour before he stood up and began firing. Roof, allegedly said he was there to “kill black people,” and when one man pleaded with him to stop, the shooter allegedly replied: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” CNN reported.
The depth of depravity this crime represents stunned elected officials across the country.
“The only reason someone could walk into the church and shoot people praying is out of hate. It is the most dastardly act that I could possibly imagine,” Charleston’s mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., told reporters.
President Barack Obama was visibly sad when he addressed the nation about this latest gun massacre.
“Mother Emanuel is, in fact more than a church. . . . This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America,” he said.
“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,” the president added.
But instead of gun massacres causing more people to support gun control, the atrocities appear to be having an opposite effect.
A 2013 Pew Research study found that “because of gun massacres, 52% of Americans now say that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling ownership.”
Despite the mass shootings, most Americans still see the U.S. as being more humane and more tolerant than other nations.
Yet there’s not a lot of difference between a gunman walking into a church and killing worshippers because they are black and atrocities that occur in countries such as Pakistan, where Christians have been massacred during worship.
According to reports, the suspect in the Charleston church massacre had gotten a .45 caliber handgun as a birthday present from his father.
Once again, questions are going to be raised about whether this suspect should have been able to own that gun.
But what we know for sure is this:
A gun in the hands of someone filled with racial hatred is a deadly weapon.
We know that a gun in the hands of a criminal is a deadly weapon, just as a gun in the hands of a gang-banger hell-bent on getting revenge is a deadly weapon.
Far too often, that deadly weapon ends up in the hands of someone like the young man who walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
As a civilized nation, we need to figure out what to do about that.
Follow Mary Mitchell on Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST