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Charlotte group rallies for gun background checks

A group of community activists marked the six-month anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting Friday by urging passage of legislation requiring universal background checks for prospective gun owners.

Gathering on a playground next to West Charlotte High School in northwest Charlotte, about 15 people rallied in support of a bill under consideration in Congress.

They said it might help prevent violence like the killings of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in mid-December.

Similar rallies took place Friday in Durham and Wilmington, organized by a group calling itself Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They urged U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger and North Carolina’s other congressional representatives to back the legislation.

Pittenger, however, said the issue is more complex than a matter of dealing with background checks.

Suzanne Conway, a leader of the Charlotte chapter of Moms Demand Action, said the thought of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings is with her all the time.

Mothers like me have been thinking about those children every day,” Conway said. “We represent all the people who are asking for change.”

The group specifically supports House Resolution 1565, which is being considered by a House committee. A Pew Research poll earlier this year showed 85 percent of Americans endorse legislation tightening background checks for gun permits, but the bill has run into stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates.

Pittenger said he applauds the efforts of those campaigning for universal background checks.

“I applaud them for getting involved,” he said. But, he added, it’s not the answer.

“By definition, criminals are not law-abiding citizens,” he said. “Universal background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre, nor would they have prevented the tragic murder of CMC executive Robert Barber – because in these and so many other cases, the guns were stolen.”

Pittenger said he has talked with Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey and other law enforcement officials, and they believe background checks are not the answer.

“The only true and lasting solution is to work on the heart of our nation – to fight back against the glorification of violence in music, the movies, and other media,” he said.

Conway, 37 and the mother of four, said the legislation is the best answer.

“I haven’t forgotten how I felt then, and I think many of us felt that way,” she said. Speaking of the background checks legislation, she added, “This is a great bill. It would make our schools and our country safer.”

Another of those at Friday’s rally was Kamaria Lawrence, who talked of being a staff member in 2007 at Ashley Park Elementary School, when a student’s parent was shot during what police said was a domestic dispute.

“Our school was on lockdown for several hours because of violence that affected our children,” she said. “Nobody should have to deal with the effects of gun violence.”

Newtown will be the subject of another Charlotte event Saturday evening.

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation will join with Partners for Parks to host a benefit concert to raise money for the proposed Newtown Memorial Playground. The concert is set for 7 p.m. at Freedom Park, featuring Nnenna Freelon and the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Tickets are $5, and proceeds will go toward the construction of a playground at Park Road Park, in memory of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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