Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Friday bemoaned the failures of the national criminal background check system and indicated that he would be open to modifying the nation's gun laws.
Responding to comments by President Obama that condemned the role of insufficient gun laws in the tragic church shooting in Charleston, Graham said during an interview with CNN that he agreed the laws aren't working and that he would be open to debating the issue. But he also stressed that no single legal fix would solve the problem of gun violence.
"Really the last thing on my mind right now is a political debate. My job is to be here and to show solidarity with my community and my state. But if you want to have a debate, we'll have it. I don't mind debating gun control," he said. "[But] I want Americans to know that the solutions to problems like this are not one law away."
On Thursday, the president issued sharp comments about gun control as he mourned the victims during a televised statement from the White House briefing room. Graham said that the president also called him on Thursday to express his condolences for the community's hardship.
"We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun," Obama said Thursday. "Now is the time for mourning and for healing, 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."
Graham said Friday that he is "open-minded about modification."
"I own a bunch of guns, and I haven't hurt anybody. But there is something wrong with the background system," said Graham. "...There's probably a million people who have been adjudicated by a court to be mentally unstable whose records are not in the national background system."
Graham has been a vocal proponent of streamlining mental health status reporting in the background check system. He has argued in the Senate that that would prevent people who have been classified as mentally ill by the courts from accessing a weapon.
When asked by CNN's Alisyn Camerota if, as president, he would be "comfortable taking away the guns of people who are charged," Graham responded affirmatively.
"Yeah, I think I would. I think if you are pending charges you are presumed to be innocent, but we're going to let the adjudication of the case go [through]," said Graham. "It makes sense to me."
There are still many questions about how Dylann Roof, the suspect in the Charleston shooting, was able to obtain the firearm he allegedly used in the attack. Roof was reportedly charged with felony drug possession earlier this year, which should have prevented him from obtaining the firearm because of federal restrictions related to pending felony charges. If Roof purchased the gun himself, as some early reports have indicated, it would represent a serious failure in the background check system.
But other reports have indicated that Roof was given the gun by his father as a gift. In South Carolina, private gun transactions are exempt from required background checks, a loophole that would have allowed Roof to obtain the weapon without undergoing a background check. Forty states have similar laws.
Camerota also asked Graham if it was appropriate for the Confederate flag to hang outside of the South Carolina Capitol. The Republican lawmaker said it was a discussion worth having, but did not take a firm position on whether it should remain.
"At the end of the day, it's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision, [that] would be fine with me. But this is part of who we are; the flag represents to some people a civil war, and that was the symbol of one side," Graham said. "To others, it's a racist symbol. And it's been used by people in a racist way."
He added: "But the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world are not because of a movie or a symbol, it's because of what's in people's heart."