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What will it take to soften America's gun advocates?

Monday, June 22, 2015

YESTERDAY'S worship service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was important for the fact that it demonstrated that there are still people living in the United States who reject the hate and bigotry that spawned last Wednesday's massacre of nine black people by a white man inside the church.

Wire service reports tell us that the historic church was filled with a diverse congregation -- black, white, young, old, Muslim, Sikh and, of course, Christian.

We found most instructive the thought that went into one man issuing sunflower seeds to people outside the church. "You get children to relate weeding a garden to weeding out hate," the man, named as Marc Daniels, was reported as saying as he passed out the seeds.

But even more important was the reopening of the church a mere four days after 21-year-old Dylann Roof, obviously filled to overflowing with hate for blacks, walked in, sat with worshippers for approximately an hour before opening fire, shooting all nine victims multiple times.

The Rev Norvel Goff, a presiding elder of the church's Seventh District in South Carolina, expressed well the symbolism of the church's swift reopening: "Some folks might need some more time in order to walk in. But for those of us who are here this morning... because the doors of Mother Emanuel are open on this Sunday, it sends a message to every demon in hell and on Earth," Rev Goff was reported as saying.

This most tragic incident has again highlighted the fact that America, despite its advances in race relations, is still struggling with racism.

We have seen increasing evidence of this struggle in recent weeks with the actions of white police officers against black unarmed men and, in one case, a black teenage girl.

Those incidents have led to mass street protests in cities across the United States, a country widely regarded for its embrace of immigrants, and which preaches the virtues of respect for human rights.

The Charleston church massacre also highlights the extremely difficult problem of easy access to firearms with which the United States has been grappling for decades.

Indeed, in the seven years that President Barack Obama has been in office he has had to console the American people on 14 different occasions after mass shootings.

A count of the executive actions that President Obama has taken to limit access to some firearms under certain conditions numbers 23, all of which have been defeated in the US Congress.

No wonder Mr Obama sounded utterly frustrated last week when he said that at some point the United States must "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".

Certainly, we had thought that the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident in December 2012, when a 20-year-old man shot dead 20 children and six adults, would have softened the hearts of the people who have blocked President Obama's push for gun control. Now, we are led to ask, what indeed, if anything, will it take to sway them.