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An NRA director has blamed the Charleston church shooting deaths on the pastor

A memorial outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Reuters/Brian Snyder
A memorial outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
By Lily Kuo
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A National Rifle Association board director has blamed the deaths from the mass shooting at a mostly African-American church in South Carolina on the pastor’s anti-gun stance.

A 21-year-old man, who has now been arrested, opened fire midway through a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston on Wednesday night, reloading several times and reportedly telling his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” The church’s pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney, also a state senator, was among the nine people killed.

The gun advocacy group has issued no public statement since the shooting, but NRA board member Charles Cotton contributed a comment about Pinckney to a discussion thread on a firearm forum that he moderates. (The comment has since been deleted.)

“And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

Pinckney was known for introducing legislation for stricter background checks on gun owners and last year voted against a South Carolina law allowing the concealed carrying of weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. Under state law, guns are not allowed to be brought into churches.

A few hours before Cotton’s comments, president Obama delivered a speech calling for stricter gun control:

“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… 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. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

Cotton’s comment about self defense is similar to the argument the lobbyist group made after 20 children were shot dead in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut—schools, and perhaps now churches, should be armed.

The NRA is known for its less-than-sensitive approach to mass shootings. Last year, the group chose a reverend who blamed the Connecticut elementary school shooting on the separation of religion and public education to lead its annual prayer meeting. “This is what happens when a society turns its back on God,” the reverend said at the time.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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