WASHINGTON — A day after stirring controversy for referring to the Charleston shootings as an "accident," former Gov. Rick Perry at a social conservative event here on Saturday repeatedly called the massacre a “hate crime."
“We must look at this and understand and respect that this was a clear hate crime,” he told reporters after a Faith and Freedom Coalition event in the morning.
Perry — who is said to have little room for error in his 2016 presidential bid after his gaffe-filled campaign four years ago — found himself at the center of a firestorm on Friday when he described the shootings as an accident and speculated prescription drug abuse as a cause.
The Perry campaign on Friday quickly clarified his statements, saying he intended to say “incident.” But the flub drew comparisons on social media to Perry’s 2011 “oops” moment, possibly inhibiting his intensive, years-long image rehabilitation effort.
Overall, the former governor struck a somber tone while addressing Wednesday’s shooting, which left nine church worshipers dead.
“We’re all here today with heavy hearts,” he said in his remarks at the event.
“Those individuals, those Charleston Christians who were gunned down in an absolutely heinous hate crime inside of their place of worship ... that deranged individual didn’t just take the lives of black Americans. He gunned down nine children of God,” he added.
To reporters after his speech, he cautioned against the left using the shootings as a “knee-jerk” opportunity to take away guns from the public.
At the event, Perry also escalated his criticism of President Obama, attacking him on foreign policy and several other fronts.
“The truth is, we are at the end of an era of failed leadership,” he said. “We’ve been led by a divider who has sliced and diced the electorate, pitting American against American for political purposes.”
And he aimed to differentiate himself from the 2016 GOP field on the issue of abortion, citing his record on parental notification and consent and sonograms.
“A lot of candidates say the right things about protecting life,” he said. “But no candidate has done more to protect unborn life.”