Attorney general speaks at Ebenezer church, sidesteps gun issue

Speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made reference to the Arizona mass shooting during Sunday's service, describing it as "senseless."

However, Holder declined to take questions on whether gun-control laws might have prevented the shooting, and walked off when asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for his position on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

"Not today man, not today," Holder said, when approached after he had visited with King's sister, Christine Farris.

On Jan. 8, a gunman in Tucson, Ariz., shot 19 people in a shopping mall, killing six, including a federal judge. Among the wounded was U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head and remains in critical condition. The suspected gunman, Jared Laughner, 22, was wrestled to the ground by bystanders. Authorities said the man used a 9mm Glock handgun with a 33-round magazine in the attack, and carried another 30-round and two 15-round magazines.

In the past, Holder has not shied from controversy on a number of subjects, including gun control. Last year, he said the Obama administration would seek to re-instate the assault-weapons ban, which he strongly supported but the administration has not backed. He has been both a critic and supporter of the Patriot Act, and he stated in confirmation hearings that water-boarding previously used as an interrogation technique during the Bush Administration was torture.

In a speech last year during Black History Month, Holder declared the U.S. was a nation of cowards when it came to dealing with the race issue. That remark brought a rebuke from President Barack Obama.

Yet on Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. pastored, Holder made a brief address that was more vague than anything. Holder told the congregation that each individual had a responsibility to improve the world, but he didn't say how that should happen.

A 1994 gun-control law outlawed assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Once the law expired after 10 years, the Republican-controlled Congress did not reinstate the bans.

Democratic leadership hasn't  pushed for the bans either. Voters punished the party following the enactment of the 1994 law, which helped Republicans, led by Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich, take control of the House of Representatives.

Unlike Holder, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer's senior pastor, touched on political and social themes when he spoke. He said the country would suffer if educators, parents and politicians don't stop the flood of high school dropouts among black youth, which he implied threatens to recreate the permanent underclass that existed under segregation.

"There is no way you can have young African-American men dropping out of high school at 60 to 70 percent and America to have a future," Warnock said. "Don't dare give up on our children. Don't dare give up on America."

The reverend also spoke out against religious bigotry as a threat to a nation growing more diverse. He condemned Christians who supported bigotry under the guise of religion.

"We should stand against the efforts of of those who would speak the name of Jesus in acts of bigotry," Warnock said. "If you burn the Koran today, you will burn the cross on my yard tomorrow."