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Obama on the Charleston shooting: “I've had to make statements like this too many times”

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

President Obama offered condolences Thursday to the families of the nine victims, and to Charleston as a whole, after Wednesday night's shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In his remarks, he also spoke candidly about mass shootings, which he indicated are a uniquely American problem.

"I've had to make statements like this too many times," Obama said. "Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.

"Now is the time for mourning and for healing. 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."

He also spoke about the history of the church, known as "Mother Emanuel," and its importance in American history due to the role it played in the civil rights movement.

"The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked, and we know that hatred across races and faiths poses a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals," Obama said.

He quoted the remarks Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made after four girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham in 1963:

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

"The good news," Obama said, "is I am confident 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."

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