The North Carolina Council of Churches has long cared about gun violence prevention — you would expect that from an organization that devotes much of its energy toward PEACE. A few years ago, however, we became very intentional about this work and in those years have united with a bevy of organizations across N.C. who work at a host of intersections.
With so many shootings in so many places as a regular feature in the daily news, it is important to reflect on some progress we have made with our coalition partners. Here in North Carolina, there have been some small victories in the past year, sometimes related to what has not happened. Several bills were introduced during the General Assembly session that would not have furthered the cause of reducing gun violence.
House Bill (HB) 499, Omnibus Gun Changes, would have significantly weakened N.C. gun laws by repealing important pieces of our concealed carry permitting system. A repeal would have allowed 18 year olds with no training and no background check to carry a concealed gun, allowed school employees to carry a concealed gun in K-12 schools while on duty, and allowed legislators and staff to carry weapons at the General Assembly. With your help legislators across the state received phone calls and emails from constituents expressing their concern about this bill. Your involvement helped make a difference and HB 499 was never brought up for a vote.
Senate Bill (SB) 192, The School Security Act of 2019, was a bill that would have given K-12 educators a 5% salary supplement to carry guns at school while on duty. Our allies at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence helped educate voters in key districts and sent them to meet key legislators to help stop the bill. This bill was never brought up for a vote.
On a positive note, HB 508, the Firearms Safe Storage Awareness Initiative, promotes safe firearm storage and the distribution of gun locks, important initiatives because only half of N.C. residents who own a firearm keep them secured. This bill passed and would have been in the state budget if a compromise had been reached between the Governor and the Legislature. If the budget had passed, money would have been allocated for this important work. We have every hope that it will come up again and will be included in the next budget.
The tragedy of gun violence continues to stalk our communities on a regular basis, most often attracting our attention when it occurs in schools, churches, or other public places. In reality, most gun violence takes place in places we never hear about—in our homes and on our neighborhood streets. The highest percentage of gun deaths are suicides and the next highest are homicides. Domestic violence and accidental deaths also rank very high.
Continuing to shine light on gun violence, where it most often happens and to whom it most often happens, is the truth telling the Council and its coalition partners will continue to do. Someone we follow once said: “. . . the truth will make you free” (John 8:31). When we tell the truth about gun violence, we remain faithful to the one who demanded truth. The truth is that more guns means more gun deaths, especially when the regulations around owning and using guns is so lax.
Even though schools, worship gatherings, and public venues do not represent the highest percentage of gun deaths, they are appropriate markers for the preponderance of gun violence in our nation. Many communities use the Sandy Hook Anniversary as a time for this truth telling. Others tell the truth on the anniversary of Mother Emanuel or Pulse Nightclub or Tree of Life Synagogue or El Paso. Sadly, there are many choices.
The important thing is to find a date that resonates with your community, gather together and tell the truth about gun violence. Vigils are being planned now around the county and organizers hope there will be a gun violence prevention event in every congressional district.
Please use these resources to help plan a vigil or event in your community. Together we can tell the truth about gun violence and work for communities where everyone is truly safe.