Residents are gathering in grief while authorities condemn a shooting at an African American church in Charleston, S.C. Nine people were shot dead in the attack. (Reuters)

The longtime mayor of Charleston called Thursday for bolstered gun-control laws hours after an assailant opened fire in a historic African American church, killing at least nine people.

“You don’t know what could have been done,” said Joseph P. Riley Jr. (D) when asked whether the shootings could have been prevented.

But he added: “I personally believe there are far too many guns out there, and access to guns, it’s far too easy. Our society has not been able to deal with that yet.”

In the coming days, Riley said he would “continue to push on” and called the killings this week “another example of why” more gun-control measures should be enacted.

Riley went on to criticize the “easy ability for people to gain possession of them no doubt contributes to violent acts.”

At a news conference Thursday, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen urged members of the community not to approach the white man suspected of killing nine people in an African American church. (Reuters)

In 2013, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney — the pastor of the church hit by the Wednesday slayings and believed to be among the dead — used his role as state senator to sponsor a resolution lauding a high school senior for an award-winning speech urging for tighter gun laws.

But many other lawmakers in South Carolina oppose greater limits on firearms.

The mayor, a decades-long advocate for gun control, also expressed disappointment at the lack of a “major national effort” to tighten gun laws following “the tragic event with the school in New England” — an apparent reference to the December 2012 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adult staff dead.

“I’ve never stopped pushing for it,” he said of his views on gun control. “This is just a very heartbreaking and tragic example of why it is needed.”

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