Rep. William Chumley ‘regrets’ self-defense comment

Rep. William Chumley

An Upstate lawmaker opposed to removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse has apologized for seeming to question why the victims of last week’s Emanuel AME Church attack did not do more to defend themselves.

State Rep. William Chumley, R-Woodruff, told CNN that it was wrong to debate the flag and hate groups in the wake of the killings.

“We’re focusing on the wrong thing here. We need to be focusing on the nine families that are left and see that this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “These people sat in there and waited their turn to be shot. That’s sad. Somebody in there with the means of self-defense could have stopped this, and we would have had less funerals than we’re having.”

Chumley released a statement Wednesday that said many who saw his CNN interview interpreted it as him blaming the victims for their own murder.

“I deeply regret using those words and giving that impression,” he said. “My view, which I was clumsily trying to express, was that it is painfully regrettable that someone was not able to intervene in this demented killer’s life to stop him right up to the moment he squeezed the trigger.

“Please let me be clear: The responsibility for the despicable murders in Charleston rests solely on the murderer. If any of my remarks suggested differently, I am deeply sorry.”

His interview aired Tuesday night. When asked by CNN’s Drew Griffin, “Are you turning this into a gun debate?” Chumley replied, “You said guns. Why didn’t somebody just do something? I mean, you got one skinny person shooting a gun. I mean, we need to take and do what you can.”

Chumley said he understood the suspect reloaded during the crime. “That’s upsetting,” he said.

Chumley, 67, also said his constituents are calling him and favor the flag remaining on the Statehouse grounds. “It stays there until the people of South Carolina say it should come down,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.