HOUSTON — A Houston attorney on the National Rifle Association's board of directors is blaming the deadly Charleston church shooting on one of the victims, saying the slain pastor had opposed concealed carry legislation as a state senator that could have saved him and his fellow worshippers.
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Charles Cotton confirmed writing that "innocent people died because of (Clementa Pinckney's) position on a political issue." The post appeared Thursday in an online discussion board about concealed handguns.
Nine people were killed Wednesday night after a 21-year-old gunman opened fire during a Bible study at The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where Pinckney was pastor.
Cotton told the AP that he was expressing a personal opinion not reflective of the NRA. He also said he was "stumped" that his comments were still visible because he had deleted them after later deciding they were inappropriate.
Cotton said that Pinckney had voted against a concealed carry measure as a South Carolina senator, but a search of legislative archives could not immediately find any such measure. And he noted that the South Carolina law that bans guns in places of worship unless specifically allowed was the exact opposite of Texas law, which allows guns unless they specifically are prohibited. Cotton, a former police officer in Friendswood, south of Houston, said he carries a gun into church.
"That's the thing that's frustrating to me: Laws that disarm intended victims," Cotton told the AP. "How many more is it going to take when people realize there is no such thing as a gun-free zone?"
Mass shootings are "rare in the grand scheme of things," Cotton said. But "almost every one of them (the mass shootings) happen in a supposed gun-free zone, like a church, a school, or a military base like Fort Hood," he said, referring to the U.S. Army base in central Texas that has been the site of two mass shootings in recent years.
Larry Martin, the Republican chairman of the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee, called Cotton's comments "outrageous." He said South Carolina's concealed carry law allows permit holders to carry a gun in church if the church has given authorization. But the law has never allowed permit holders to bring a gun into a church without such permission, he said. The original law, passed in 1996, predates Pinckney's tenure.
Last year, Martin's committee rejected a so-called "constitutional carry" bill that would have allowed people to carry guns in public without a permit. But Pinckney was not on that committee and therefore took no vote on it.
Associated Press writer Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.