President Barack Obama squandered the "opportunity to lead our country and unite us" by calling for stronger gun control in light of the South Carolina shootings, the head of a prominent group of African-American conservatives, told Newsmax on Saturday.
"I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed," Horace Cooper, chairman of the Project 21, The Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, said in an interview. "He instead didn't cancel his political efforts out in California and didn’t cancel his golf trip.
"He insisted on politicizing this by claiming that gun control would be some solution to this — where there is no evidence of that — and by suggesting that what happened here is an example of the ongoing racial conflict, including the past experience the nation had with slavery.
"All of that was over the top and inappropriate," Cooper said.
Since Dylann Roof allegedly shot to death eight members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston Wednesday night, President Obama has called for stricter gun laws.
A ninth member of the church died later at a local hospital. Roof was arrested early Thursday in Shelby, N.C.
"Now is the time for mourning and for healing," he said Thursday at the White House. "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."
Obama toughened his stance the following day in speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco: "I'm not resigned. I have faith that 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."
The president was expected to spend the rest of Father's Day weekend in Palm Springs, a favorite golf destination, while first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters were in Europe.
Roof, 21, of Eastover, S.C., has been charged with nine counts of murder and one of weapons possession. Bond was set at $1 million on the weapons charge. He is being held pending court appearances in October and next February.
The New York Times reported Saturday that photos appearing to show Roof posing with weapons at Confederate grave sites and burning an American flag have turned up on a website that includes a 2,500-word white supremacist manifesto.
Officials later said that the site was registered in Roof's name in February.
Gun groups also slammed President Obama for calling for more restrictions on firearms after the shooting.
"The president wants to blame an inanimate object — the gun," Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, told Newsmax on Thursday. "But that just deflects blame away from the real culprit: gun-control policies that leave people defenseless in the face of evil perpetrators who are never effectively prevented from acquiring weapons."
Founded in 1992, Project 21 developed from a convening of African-American conservatives by the National Center for Public Policy Research
, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
Cooper said Saturday that President Obama would have been most effective in bringing the country together "as a nation to say that we are mourning, we are sad — and we should figure out constructive ways so that when these problem people are in our community that we start identifying them better.
"That would have been a much more positive way to show leadership. He didn't do that," the chairman told Newsmax. "He didn’t appear to care to do that. He seemed to think that stopping his trip out to San Francisco, his golf game that he had planned, and his longtime political commitments were much more important than standing up and taking this leadership role."
Therefore, the nation must now heal itself — and that has now led to debates on unrelated issues, Cooper observed, including whether to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol.
"We're kind of left to ourselves to try to figure something out," he told Newsmax. "I think, left alone, the nation will say: 'OK, well we don't have his leadership to help us; we'll still try to do it' — but we're not going to get to do that because we keep hearing those voices say, 'Now is the opportunity to pursue those political things that are already dividing us.'
"Whether it's the Confederate flag, whether it's gun control … or this theory that in 2015 it is harder to be a black person than in 1965," Cooper added. "All these things are not constructive ways for us to operate in 2015 America — and, as president, we would have been much better served if he had said that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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