Martin O'Malley on Charleston: Quick to Call for New Gun Laws, Unprepared to Talk About Racism

Catching the candidate off guard


Hmm. Should I pivot to calling it a war on faith? No, that's Fox.

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley was a guest on MSNBC's Morning Joe today. Asked about the Charleston church massacre, the former Maryland governor took the opportunity to offer his views on gun control and mental-health interventions. (He's for both.) After several minutes of this, fellow panelist Walter Isaacson raised an issue at the core of the crime: shooter Dylann Roof's racist motives. At that point O'Malley started to stammer:

O'Malley: From the reports I read—and let's be honest with one another, the facts are still evolving here—I mean, this, it would appear that the racial motivation was, uh, certainly a big part of what happened here.

Isaacson: So how do we address things like that?

O'Malley: We do it by—we do it by, by, uh, acknowledging the racial legacy that we share as Americans, and, and, um, I don't know exactly how we, how we, how we address this, Walter. I mean, look, we, as Americans, all share a very painful racial legacy, and, um, and we need to acknowledge it, and we need to take actions to, to heal it. But I don't think anybody's figured out the, the magic solution to that.

In due fairness to O'Malley, there isn't some sort of easy solution to Roof-style racial resentment—certainly nothing that could be boiled down to a TV soundbite or a presidential platform plank. But the candidate was clearly unprepared for the question, as though it hadn't occurred to him that a conversation about an act of racist terrorism might at some point turn to the topic of race.

Later in the day, O'Malley sent supporters an email that ignored the racist roots of the attack entirely, skipping straight to a call for new gun controls:


I'm pissed.

I'm pissed that after an unthinkable tragedy like the one in South Carolina yesterday, instead of jumping to act, we sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to say what we're all thinking: that this is not the America we want to be living in.

I'm pissed that we're actually asking ourselves the horrific question of, what will it take? How many senseless acts of violence in our streets or tragedies in our communities will it take to get our nation to stop caving to special interests like the NRA when people are dying?

I'm pissed that after working hard in the state of Maryland to pass real gun control—laws that banned high-magazine weapons, increased licensing standards, and required fingerprinting for handgun purchasers—Congress continues to drop the ball.

It's time we called this what it is: a national crisis.

I proudly hold an F rating from the NRA, and when I worked to pass gun control in Maryland, the NRA threatened me with legal action, but I never backed down.

So now, I'm doubling down, and I need your help. What we did in Maryland should be the first step of what we do as a nation. The NRA is already blaming the victims of yesterday's shooting for their own deaths, saying they too should have been armed. Let's put an end to this madness and finally stand up to them. Here are some steps we should be taking:

1. A national assault weapons ban.

2. Stricter background checks.

3. Efforts to reduce straw-buying, like fingerprint requirements.

Not one of the GOP presidential candidates comes even close to being right on this issue—and some actually believe that things like background checks are excessive, or that high-capacity magazines are a basic right. Well, I believe we all have a basic right to safe schools, safe places to worship, and safe streets.

Are you with me?

Martin O'Malley

This quick pivot looks even worse in conjunction with the blots on O'Malley's own civil rights record. (The NAACP and ACLU got an $870,000 settlement out of the City of Baltimore for unconstitutional arrests conducted while he was mayor.) Add the long historical relationship between gun control measures and anti-black repression, and the whole thing just leaves a foul taste in my mouth.