Politics & Government

Newly confident gun reform activists mobilize in NC and around the country

Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation hosts a community conversation on gun violence on Aug. 15 at Johnson C. Smith University. Among the speakers seated in front: former Sen. Malcolm Graham, Meckleburg Sheriff Garry McFadden and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams.
Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation hosts a community conversation on gun violence on Aug. 15 at Johnson C. Smith University. Among the speakers seated in front: former Sen. Malcolm Graham, Meckleburg Sheriff Garry McFadden and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams. Mecklenburg County Sheriff's office

It was just over four years ago that Cynthia Hurd and eight fellow congregants were in Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME church when they were gunned down by 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof.

Since then there have been 31 shootings in the U.S. that have claimed at least four lives, the most recent this month in El Paso and Dayton. That’s an average of one every 47 days, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. That includes the nation’s two deadliest, at a Las Vegas music festival and an Orlando nightclub.

That’s why Hurd’s brother, former state Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte, hosted a town hall meeting on gun violence this week that drew over 400 people to Johnson C. Smith University.

The meeting came as gun control advocates are mobilizing this weekend in North Carolina and across the country with more than 100 rallies in Raleigh and all 50 states.

It also came four months after a shooter killed two students and wounded four at UNC Charlotte and as Charlotte’s 71 homicides already have eclipsed the number for all of last year.

“It’s clear that we as a country and community are suffering from a crisis,” Mecklenburg Commissioner Mark Jerrell told the audience at Smith.

Groups advocating gun law changes believe they have momentum. Two, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, are spending $1 million this weekend on TV and digital ads to persuade senators, including Republican U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, to support gun bills passed by the House but stuck in the Senate.

One bill calls for stronger background checks. The other for a so-called red flag law that would allow authorities to temporarily take the firearms of a person considered a danger to themselves or others.

A Fox News poll this month showed broad support for both actions. It found 90% of voters supported universal background checks while 81% — including three out of four Republicans — favored red flag laws.

It also found that 67% back a ban on assault-style weapons.

“We are tired of excuses and we are demanding action,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told listeners Thursday night. “Slowly but surely we are breaking the (National Rifle Association’s) stranglehold on our system, finger by finger.”

Politico reported Friday that allies of the NRA are concerned that the group, beset by scandal and internal disarray, has lost political clout.

“I don’t think lawmakers are feeling the same loyalty to the gun lobby,” Watts told the Observer.

NC bills stuck

Activists are pushing for action on a pair of N.C. gun bills.

Democrats are pushing State Rep. Christy Clark, a Huntersville Democrat and a former state leader of Moms Demand Action, has introduced HB 86, which among other things would require a permit and 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of any pistol, rifle or assault weapon. She’s also a cosponsor of HB 454, a red flag bill.

Democrats are trying to force action on both bills, which are now in committee. At a news conference this month, Drew Pescaro, a victim of the UNCC shooting, asked why “the shooting in our state wasn’t enough to bring us to a vote.”

Clark said discussions are going on “behind the scenes.”

“There are members just as concerned as we are and talking about ways we can move forward,” she said.

Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for GOP Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain, said the current bills don’t work for Republicans.

“While House Republicans are open to reviewing proposals that address the root causes of crime without violating the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Carolinians,” he said in a statement, “as written, both of these bills fall far short of that mark.”

Some Republicans appear open to changes, particularly on a red flag bill.

“Guns that are so easy to obtain is a problem, no question about that,” said Republican Rep. Craig Horn of Union County. “So how do you control that without limiting liberty? I don’t have a magic answer for that.”

GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville said Republicans might support some form of red flag law and stronger background checks, though not the current proposals. But he said North Carolina shouldn’t wait for another mass shooting.

“My view is rather than wait for something to happen, we’d be well-advised to have hearings of the bills,” McGrady said.

Gun owners’ fears

Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns, a Charlotte retailer, told the Johnson C. Smith audience that many gun owners believe new laws would open the door to more draconian measures.

“People are afraid they’ll have to surrender their guns,” he said. “Our history is gun ownership, like it or not.”

Watts, of Moms Demand Action, said groups like hers aren’t trying to take away guns.

“It’s simply about restoring the responsibility that goes along with gun rights,” she said.

Earlier, Watts said she is confident support will grow among lawmakers in Raleigh and Washington. This month some Republicans, including Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton, have come out in favor of firearm limits.

“Unfortunately it takes a shooting tragedy, but we often see lawmakers realize we have a crisis that’s out of control,” Watts told the Observer. “We are absolutely winning. It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments