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Clinton calls for 'common-sense' gun control after Charleston terrorist attack

Hillary Clinton also spoke forcefully about the 'deep fault line' of racism, noting that 'millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.'

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is applauded by the president of the US Conference of Mayors, Sacramento. Mayor Kevin Johnson (l.) and the conference vice President, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Saturday June 20, 2015, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 83rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Mathew Sumner/AP

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Hillary Rodham Clinton issued an emotional plea Saturday following the South Carolina church shooting, calling for "common-sense" gun control reforms and a national reckoning with the persistent problem of "institutional racism."

Three days after nine black church members were gunned down in Charleston, the Democratic presidential contender said the country must take steps to keep guns from criminals and the mentally ill.

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Regulations, she said, can be passed while still respecting the Second Amendment and "respecting responsible gun owners." The US Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

"The politics on this issue have been poisoned, but we can't give up," Ms. Clinton told the US Conference of Mayors meeting in San Francisco on Saturday. "The stakes are too high. The costs are too dear."

In 2013 Congress rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks on firearms sales and banned some semi-automatic weapons.

While public opinion is sharply divided on the issue of gun rights vs. gun control, the scientists who research it are not, as Christian Science Monitor's Alexander LaCasse reported in April:

Does owning a gun make your home more dangerous? Most professionals who research the effects of gun ownership say yes. 

This is what David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health saw when he began sending out monthly surveys almost a year ago to scientists engaged in research in public health, criminology, or other social sciences. A clear majority found that a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide, makes women more likely to be victims of homicide, and make homes more dangerous.

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, titled, "There's scientific consensus on guns – and the NRA won't like it," Hemenway writes: 

"Scientific consensus isn't always right, but it's our best guide to understanding the world. Can reporters please stop pretending that scientists, like politicians, are evenly divided on guns? We're not."

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[Among the general public, support] for gun ownership was most pronounced among whites who believed that crime rates in the United States are on the rise. This belief runs counter to crime statistics, which in particular have found that the gun homicide rate has plunged by 49 percent since its peak in 1993.

President Barack Obama has blamed the continued national political inaction on the issue on the influence of the National Rifle Association, the leading gun rights lobbying group.

While Clinton did not propose any specific legislation in her address, she's previously supported limits on gun sales and extending the assault weapons ban.

On Friday, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who's challenging Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination, called for an assault weapons ban, stricter background checks and tougher requirements to buy a gun.

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"I'm pissed," he wrote in an email to supporters. "It's time we called this what it is: a national crisis."

As the Christian Science Monitor's Brad Knickerbocker noted on Friday, advocates on both sides promptly staked out their now-familiar positions after the shooting:

National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton wrote, “Eight of [Pinckney’s] 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.”

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Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement: “[E]very day, 88 lives are lost in shootings across our nation. Most of these tragedies are preventable through sensible solutions that just keep guns out of the wrong hands: solutions like expanding Brady background checks on all gun sales, and shutting down the small number of ‘bad apple’ gun dealers that supply almost all crime guns.”

Clinton's remarks also marked a forceful entry into the heated topic of race relations, an issue that's become a major theme of her campaign. Clinton called race a "deep fault line" in America, noting that "millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives."

The problem of racism was not limited to "kooks and Klansmen," she said, but included the off-hand, off-color jokes, as well as whites not speaking up against poverty and discrimination.

In previous appearances, Clinton has taken up a number of issues that are important to African-Americans, calling for changes to the criminal justice system, voting laws and assistance for minority small business owners. Her campaign is trying to motivate the coalition of minority, young, and liberal voters that twice elected Obama to the White House.

"We can't hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America," she said. "We have to name them and then own them and then change them."