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(UPDATED – See below) There’s not a whole lot of encouraging news Moms Demand Actionemanating from the North Carolina General Assembly these days. Today at 12:30, for example, a House Judiciary committee took up legislation to allow some public servants to refuse to perform their sworn duties when it comes to marrying same-sex couples.

So, it was especially encouraging this morning to see and listen to the group of caring and informed citizens pictured at left who came to the Legislative Building to speak out against the ongoing gun violence epidemic that plagues our state. The group, Moms Demand Action, brought more than two dozen gutsy advocates to the halls of the General Assembly (some of them survivors of gun violence) to deliver cookies to legislative offices and inform state lawmakers that there is a wind shift underway when it comes to public attitudes toward guns.

Where once widespread apathy from average citizens allowed the N.R.A., the gun industry and other extreme pro-gun groups to bully lawmakers into doing whatever they asked without organized opposition, the Moms Demand Action citizen lobbyists informed lawmakers today that things are changing. Indeed, with more than 93,000 members in North Carolina and a growing list of successes around the country, there is every reason to believe that the group has begun the long, slow process of reintroducing a measure of sanity into the state’s gun violence debate.

Moms Demand Action tableThat said, there is certainly a heck of a mess to clean up — one that some lawmakers appear to remain bent on making even worse. Yesterday, in the latest effort to bring killing machines into every conceivable nook and cranny of our society, two Forsyth County House members introduced a “local bill” that would allow private school personnel in their county to bring guns onto campuses.

Moms Demand Action opposes the measure and has added it to its list of action items (along with the current and energetic #GroceriesNotGuns campaign to get Kroger and Harris-Teeter to join the list of responsible companies that ban loaded firearms from their stores). (Note: the original version of this story incorrectly stated that Moms Demand Action had taken no position on the bill).

If you’d like more information, visit www.momsdemandaction.org.

Commentary

2-16-15-NCPW-CARTOONFor my money, the most thoughtful essay to appear in a North Carolina newspaper over the past weekend was authored by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer regarding the senseless triple murder tragedy that rocked Chapel Hill and Carrboro this month. As Barnett highlights in “The hard toll of easy guns,” the saddest part of so many of the stories and commentaries regarding the crime has been the resignation with which we have accepted the notion that the accumulation of weapons caches by mentally disturbed individuals is beyond our ability as a society to address:

“Relatives and friends of the victims are understandably looking for something deeper behind the deaths of their loved ones. And there may well be. But it’s also possible that this was violence without any broader connection, another case of anger, frustration and stress all terribly magnified by a gun.

It’s a haunting idea that we’ve become so inured to gun violence that it must be tied to a larger context to have meaning. Otherwise, it’s just something that happens, like a car accident. No one seems particularly alarmed that Hicks was found to have a dozen firearms in his condominium, including a fully loaded AR-15 Bushmaster, the same military-style rifle used in the Newtown massacre. Maybe if we believe the Chapel Hill shootings involved some sharply focused hatred, we don’t have to think of what might have happened had there been a party with 15 people in a condominium, cars double parked and an angry man at the door with an AR-15.

This is America. Hicks had a right to keep and bear arms, to stockpile arms, to arm himself with rifles designed for combat. He apparently owned the weapons legally. Sane gun laws might prevent the assemblage of these social time bombs. Read More

Commentary

GunsThe unspeakable tragedy in Chapel Hill this week appears to be causing some important community soul searching about hate crimes and whether the victims were targeted because of their faith. Let’s hope and pray that, in the end, this leads to productive dialogue that further breaks down the walls between people of different religions, races and ethnic backgrounds.

And here’s another thing to hope and pray arises in the aftermath: More thoughtful discussion and dialogue about how our society can take steps to keep troubled souls like Craig Stephen Hicks from accessing and using killing machines.

Surely there’s more that can be done to prevent such future tragedies than simply shaking our heads and arguing that the victims should have been packing weapons for self defense. (Indeed, just imagine the commotion it would cause in many communities if a woman in traditional Muslim attire were seen walking down the street openly carrying a firearm.)

As an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer noted this morning:

“As always with such a crime, police and other investigators have to look at firearms involved and whether their ownership was legal. But legal or not, there can be little doubt that the presence of a gun before or during an argument increases the likelihood that tragedy will occur.”

If nothing else, lets hope that this latest college town tragedy spurs a new group of American young people to commit themselves to building a society in which guns and other killing machines become as socially ostracized (and thereby increasingly obsolete) as two other formerly-prevalent tools of death: cigarette smoking and drunk driving.

Commentary
state Sen. Thom Goolsby

Former State Sen. Thomas Goolsby

It’s a testament to just how far we have to go in this state — a place in which innocent people are shot and killed on what seems like an almost daily basis — when reasonably intelligent people write lengthy and celebratory blog posts about the long list of ways in which state lawmakers have made killing machines easier to obtain, brandish and use in recent years.

That’s what former State Senator Thomas Goolsby, a Wilmington criminal defense and personal injury lawyer, did last week on his law firm blog. Goolsby’s overwhelmingly depressing lists (click here and here to view them) were trumpeted yesterday on the soon-to-be-defunct legislative news website of former State Representative Tim Moffitt yesterday (Moffitt was defeated in November and will presumably stop referring to himself as a State Representative shortly).

Moffitt’s post is entitled “Of Interest to Gun Owners.” Lets hope it’s of interest to all caring and thinking North Carolinians — gun owners and non-owners alike — as they come together in the years ahead to begin to rein in this state’s out-of-control gun violence crisis.

Commentary

There were vigils all across the country last night (and there will be more this weekend) for the victims of the Newtown tragedy on its second anniversary, including the one pictured at leftNCGV vigil that took place at the Judea Reform Congregation in Durham.

And while it was a somber affair, there was some good news to share. For instance:

Since Newtown, 99 laws strengthening gun regulations have been passed in 37 states. This includes new laws protecting domestic violence victims in eight states, California’s new “Gun Violence Restraining Order” law, Washington state’s new universal background checks ballot initiative and new comprehensive regulations in Massachusetts.

Evidence also continues to mount that gun safety laws work since states with stronger laws continue to have lower gun death rates than states with weaker laws.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, public opinion continues to grow in favor of stronger laws. Nine out of 10 Americans now support expanding background checks to cover private sales — this includes 80% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members.

The bottom line: Slowly but surely, the truth is sinking in to Americans that it’s possible (and indeed essential) to craft stronger, smarter laws that protect innocent people without infringing on gun ownership.  NRA bullies may dominate the political playing field in many places (like North Carolina) for the time being, but their days of dominance are numbered.