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Monday March 20th

Chapel Hill community responds to rise in gun violence

Utalizing gun safes is one way to reduce gun violence in communities.
Buy Photos Utalizing gun safes is one way to reduce gun violence in communities.

Content warning: This article contains mention of gun violence.

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Chapel Hill has seen a rise in gun violence-related incidents in the past year, with the most recent shooting at the Chapel Ridge apartment complex on Jan. 12.

Last year saw five fatal shootings in Chapel Hill, an increase from the one fatal shooting that occurred in 2021.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said these instances do not appear to be random and seem to occur among people who know each other.

She said the Town is trying to put an emphasis on preventing gun violence, rather than having to de-escalate situations as they occur. Hemminger said the state legislature restricts the Town government's ability to control gun laws on a local level.

“I think everyone worries and stresses that gun violence can happen anywhere and to feel safe in our community in our homes and places of work, that we count on our public safety officers to help with that,” Hemminger said. “We also count on the community to help with that.”

One of the ways Hemminger said the Town is combating gun violence is through the Chapel Hill Police Department's Crisis Unit.

According to the Town's website, the Crisis Unit, established in 1973, is a 24-hour co-response team that provides onsite emergency officer response to individuals in a crisis situation.

Hemminger said the Crisis Unit also is involved in outreach that helps to educate community members on gun violence prevention and what to do in the event of an active shooter situation. 

She said Chapel Hill is one of the few communities in the state to have a crisis unit and that she thinks Town initiatives like this have helped to make people feel more comfortable.

Currently, North Carolina has the 23rd highest rate of gun deaths in the U.S. with an average of 1,470 people dying by guns per year, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing gun death and injury, according to its website.

Becky Ceartas, the executive director of NCGV, said the organization works to educate the public about prevention and advocates for keeping existing gun restrictions, as well as enacting new ones.

“Gun violence is a real tragedy because of the numbers of lives being lost and because there are policies and programs that we can put in place that have been proven to save lives,” Ceartas said.

Ceartas said she thinks the state's current pistol purchasing permit system and the concealed carry weapons permitting system are great, but not enough. 

The pistol purchasing permit system requires prospective firearm purchasers to pass a background check verifying that they meet all eligibility requirements, though the law only applies to sellers who are federally licensed firearm dealers. 

A bill was introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives earlier this month to repeal the pistol permit system.

Ceartas said more funding needs to go into community violence intervention programs along with implementing universal background checks and requiring safe storage procedures for all gun owners.

Leah Krevat, a Students Demand Action liaison for Moms Demand Action, said her organization is also advocating for safer gun laws, including safe storage.

Krevat said the organization does this through the Be SMART program, which encourages individuals to practice safe gun storage, act responsibly around guns, ask about unsecured guns in the home and recognize the role of guns in suicide.

“A lot of people should care about (gun violence) because it can impact them one day,” Krevat said. "Some people think, ‘It'll never happen to me, it shouldn't happen to me,’ but it happens every day that there's a chance it could happen to them and that they need to stop it before it does.”

This is close to home for Krevat, as she said her brother was on campus during the shooting at UNC Charlotte on April 30, 2019. She said her brother was on lockdown for about four hours and the experience motivated her to make sure that no other family feels the way she felt that day.

Krevat said Moms Demand Action does not want to take away others’ guns, but wants to find ways to come together to combat the epidemic of gun violence.

“It's an important issue because any life is lost and incredibly tragic,” Ceartas said. “It leaves a hole in the heart of the family members that are left behind and the entire community throughout the entire state. We have a real gun epidemic going on here in North Carolina and throughout the country.”

@mkpolicastro

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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