Local and national politics collided in Hillsborough as activists ramped up their calls for gun reform at a rally on Aug. 10.
Two major events brought them to the historic Orange County Courthouse to rally: the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, and threats made to the owner of Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough over a sign that encouraged burning the Confederate flag.
Tensions had already risen in the county following several Confederate displays in Hillsborough over the summer. On Aug. 9, the day before the rally, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens released a statement clarifying that the town upholds the right to free speech, especially on public spaces like the sidewalks where the incidents took place.
At the rally, speakers from local organizations, including the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action and local chapters of the NAACP, urged state and national leaders to say the recent shootings are "acts of white nationalist terrorism” and to pass stricter gun control legislation.
Renuka Soll, a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council and member of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, specifically called on members of the state legislature to pass two bills that have stalled since the spring.
House Bill 454 is essentially a red flag law, which means it would restrict someone’s access to firearms if they pose a risk to themselves or other people — known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order. According to the bill, this provides a legal process to address warning signs that often appear before a mass shooting happens.
Soll also highlighted the Gun Violence Prevention Act. This bill would add steps to the process of getting a gun, including requiring a permit, requiring a background check and banning bump stocks.
The state House and Senate are both set to convene this week, but it is unclear if these bills will be a priority as the state legislature continues to work to pass a budget. But local officials don’t seem like they’re going to let legislators forget about the issue.
Both Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to end its recess to take immediate action on gun safety legislation. The letter, signed by 214 mayors nationwide, asks the Senate to pass two bills expanding background checks that passed the House with bipartisan support in February.
The letter said the recent shootings are the latest reminder that the country can’t wait for the government to take necessary action to prevent people who shouldn’t have firearms from getting them.
“This is not a partisan issue to those of us at the local level,” Lavelle added.
Back at the state level, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said he hasn’t been satisfied by any proposed red-flag legislation, citing concern about protecting “constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”
“Instead, what we get are overly broad, undefined plans that could lead to government gun confiscation,” he said in a statement following the shootings. "We'd be better served as a nation by addressing the root causes that are driving people to violence — the breakdown of the family, mental illness, social isolation and the refusal to recognize the dignity of human life.”
If lawmakers do choose to take up any gun safety legislation, the rally organizers said they want them to understand that white supremacy is tied to gun violence. Latarndra Strong, founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, said the country is addicted to white supremacy, even at the local level.
“And what I know about addiction is that when you’re not working on a recovery, you’re working on relapse,” she said. “So what I’m asking is that instead of waiting for a crisis to happen, that we become proactive and do something proactively to avoid a mass shooting right here in our county."
Anna Pogarcic is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and history major.
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