The two scenes Saturday couldn’t have been more divergent as the gun debate that has spread across America after deadly mass shootings in cities like San Bernardino, Calif., and Charleston was played out 8 miles apart in Charlotte.
At the Charlotte Gun & Knife Show in the Metrolina Expo Center, cars filled the parking lot and people lined up in triple file by the hundreds to get a look at a vast array of rifles, pistols, hunting bows, knives, holsters, stun guns, clothing and military memorabilia.
Some dressed in hunting gear. A few, hoping to sell rifles privately, strapped them over their shoulders with for sale signs.
In uptown’s Romare Bearden Park, about 60 anti-gun violence advocates and elected officials made speeches and then walked nearly a mile among the skyscrapers chanting, “No more silence, end gun violence.”
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The event was part of a statewide series of rallies sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They dressed in orange – adopted by the movement as a symbol valuing human life – and walked two days before Monday’s third anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut that killed 20 first graders and six adults.
‘Can’t blame the guns’
Gun show promoters, The Dixie Gun & Knife Classic, Inc., wouldn’t grant reporters access to vendors. Two dealers told the Observer Saturday they were willing to answer questions but only after interviews were cleared by the promoters.
But buyers leaving the show defended their rights to buy guns and ammunition.
It ain’t the guns that’s killing the people. It’s the people. They ain’t outlawing alcohol and people go out and kill people drunk driving. You can’t blame the cars.
Robby Gruggett of Charlotte
Robby Gruggett of Charlotte, toting two bags full of ammo, said guns are nothing but “hunks of metal. It ain’t the guns that’s killing the people. It’s the people. They ain’t outlawing alcohol, and people go out and kill people drunk driving. You can’t blame the cars.
“Well you can’t blame the guns.”
Gordon White of Buncombe County locked a Winchester shotgun in his trunk. It’s a Christmas gift for his 12-year-old grandson.
“It’s about time the boy learns to shoot,” White said. “I’ve been shooting since I was 6. My grandfather first took me.”
The boy’s mother, White’s daughter, isn’t happy about the gift. She relented, White said, because “she wants him to learn how to do it safe and learn that a gun can be dangerous and hurt people. She knew he’d learn that with me.”
He said he understands why some people are pressing for laws to control access to guns.
“People are afraid,” he said. “But no matter how many laws you have, bad people are still going to get their hands on guns.”
Need to close loopholes
At the anti-violence rally, Christy Clark, a Moms Demand Action volunteer, said the group supports the Second Amendment and the right to legally own guns.
“We believe that responsible gun owners should continue to be allowed to use their guns for whatever enjoyment that they like,” Clark said.
But the group, she said, is working to limit access to people who might be a danger, applying pressure on lawyers to expand background checks before buyers are granted a permit to buy any type of gun.
It’s possible for you to be denied a pistol permit ... but you can still get a long gun. So you can not go and do something crazy with a pistol, but you can still do something crazy with a long gun because nobody ever had to investigate. We ought to close that loophole.
N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander on gun loopholes
Democratic state Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte told the crowd that North Carolina is one of 18 state that has a sensible law, requiring a background check of anyone wanting to buy a pistol. He wants the law extended to “long guns,” – rifles, shotguns, assault weapons.
“Right now we have a big loophole,” said Alexander, a gun owner. “It’s possible for you to be denied a pistol permit, ... but you can still get a long gun. So you can not go and do something crazy with a pistol, but you can still do something crazy with a long gun because nobody ever had to investigate.
“We ought to close that loophole.”
New Charlotte City Council member Julie Eiselt told the crowd that she got involved in politics after a man tried to abduct her at gunpoint in the middle of the day eight years ago.
She said surveys show 87 percent of North Carolinians believe that background checks make sense.
Yet, she said, “Americans continue to buy more guns and our federal government continues to fail to pass tougher gun laws. How do we build consensus ... to say guns should be kept out of dangerous hands? How do we honor the Second Amendment, but close the loopholes which allow bad people to access guns?”
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts urged people to pay attention to laws that allow guns in public parks and on school grounds in locked trunks.
“The prevalence of guns increases ... the probability of death from gun violence,” Roberts said. “We can work together to stem the access to people who want to do harm.”