Corrected at 10:04 a.m. on June 16. See details in story.
It was 5:40 p.m. on a Tuesday in classroom 236 of the Kennedy Building when the world turned upside down for Megan Beach and her UNC Charlotte classmates.
Two students — Riley Howell, 21, and Ellis “Reed’’ Parlier, 19, — would not survive the day, killed by another student. Four other students were wounded. Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, is facing multiple charges.
Beach’s knee, injured as she fled the hail of bullets, has healed, but her “soul is still scarred,” she said. She still hears gunshots in her sleep, she told about 40 people gathered Saturday near the N.C. General Assembly for an End the Violence rally.
“In a matter of seconds, my life was changed forever,” she said. “All we wanted was to go to class, but now we’re graduating with PTSD and a deep fear every time we don’t see a clear exit.”
The rally, organized by the nonpartisan March for Our Lives and the NAACP, was held to raise awareness of gun violence and call for local, state and national elected officials to enact common-sense gun safety laws.
The March for Our Lives agenda advocates, among other things, for funding research and intervention programs to address the root causes of gun violence, universal background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic assault rifles, and safe storage and mandatory theft reporting laws for gun owners.
Saturday’s call to action is for everyone, from gun opponents to gun safety advocates to gun owners, said Margaret Murphy, a sophomore from Holly Springs who is the new director of UNC-Charlotte’s March for Our Lives chapter. (Murphy’s hometown has been corrected.)
She hopes the politicians are “scared of the wave of youths coming to the voting booths,” she said.
“I have a lot of friends across the aisle, and I’ve worked a lot with people of all political groups on my campus, and we’ve had a lot of these discussions,” Murphy said. “Sometimes, they go good and sometimes they don’t, but we’re having these discussions, and I feel like this new generation of political activists are going to be the ones who change this.”
Several Democratic Party officials were expected to attend Saturday’s rally, but only one, Charlotte state Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed was there. Murphy said she would like to remind other lawmakers of their responsibility.
“UNCC students aren’t just from Charlotte,” she said. “They’re also from Raleigh and every other part of North Carolina. I’m still a registered voter in the Triangle, and so I would appreciate people, local politicians, who actually show up and represent the people who have been affected by this tragedy.”
Unlike their parents and grandparents before them, today’s college students grew up in an era of fear fueled by Columbine, Sandy Hook and other school shootings. Last year’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead and 17 injured, sparked an anti-gun violence movement that has spread nationwide.
But politicians have done nothing in the 20 years since Columbine to stop the killing, Beach said.
“Why has nothing been done to stop guns from landing in the hands of the wrong people?” she asked. “Why have our politicians placed dollars and material objects ahead of the lives of the American people they swore to represent and protect when they took office?”
Education, especially for young people, is key to stopping the violence, said Gracie Galloway, president of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party and a former member of the National Rifle Association.
“We need to educate our kids, not just on gun safety, but on a whole mess of other things,” Galloway said. “We need to bring back civics classes, we’ve got to bring back civility into our daily conversations, we’ve got to remember that the gun, like war, is the last thing you do, not the first.”
He’s also got a message for young people, said Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP.
“Put the guns down. There’s a better way of life,” said Givens, a Detroit native who lost six family members to guns. “If you need some help, call the NAACP. You want a better future, call the NAACP. You want to go to college like I did? You want to join the military like I did? You want to become a parent, and get a wife, and travel around the world like I did? Call the NAACP, and put the guns down.”