The gunman who shot and killed nine people during a prayer service in a South Carolina church is a symbol of the nation's obsession with guns and the "violence everywhere," said Rev. John Hall Brown, a close friend of the pastor killed in the attack.
Authorities are investigating Wednesday night's shooting at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a hate crime, which Brown called "a shock."
"But when you look at America, America has this great love affair with guns, and anybody can get them," he told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie on Thursday. "Whether they’re mentally disturbed, whether they’re crazy, whether they’re part of a hate group — let’s get 'em a gun. Everybody has a gun, and nobody wants to police it or reign it in."
Brown, who is the pastor of the nearby Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church, said places of worship are defenseless in such circumstances.
"It would be absurd to think every church that has a service or meeting would lock their doors or lock people out. You can’t just do that," said Brown. "When you look at this country, the direction it’s going in, it’s just a lot of violence everywhere. It’s almost nonstop."
Police apprehended the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, during a traffic stop Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina, about 245 miles north of Charleston. A survivor in the shooting said the gunman had asked specifically for the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, and sat among parishioners before opening on the gathering.
Brown was a close friend of Pinckney, a member of the state Senate and one of the nine people killed. Brown noted Pinckney's ability to connect with "the young people" in the congregation.
"He knew the church, he grew up in the church," he said. When Pinckney became an adult and led the congregation, "there was no doubt that he did not address.”
The pastor leaves behind a wife and two daughters. "They're definitely in our prayers," Brown said.
Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter .