Gun regulation issue sparks passion on both sides in Raleigh

dranii@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

— Heart-rending stories of lives cut short by guns fueled an impassioned rally in support of “common-sense” firearms laws Saturday in downtown’s Moore Square.

Passions ran equally high across the street, where supporters of the Second Amendment exercised their First Amendment rights by chanting slogans such as “Guns Save Lives!”

But the chanting mostly faded when two parents whose children were killed by gunfire stepped up to the podium and addressed the crowd.

“It’s like losing a part of your body, losing your child,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was among the 20 schoolchildren and six educators slain six months ago in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“We’re not asking y’all to take away your rights to bear arms – you have a right to that,” said Joslin Sims, whose son, Rayburn Antonio Demarcus Simms, 30, was killed by a gunshot in Durham in 2005. “We’re asking that (background checks for gun purchasers) be done everywhere for everybody, at guns shows and private gun sellers.

“We’re trying to get these illegal guns off the streets,” Sims continued. “We’re trying to save lives. We’re tired of our children being buried.”

The rally was part of a 25-city national tour sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That explains why one of the protesters across the street from the rally held a sign that proclaimed: “Slow down/Let’s fix our soda problem first.” Bloomberg famously has tried to ban large sodas in New York.

Raleigh is the sixth stop on the tour, which the group has dubbed “No More Names: National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence.” The “names” refers to the more than 6,000 people nationwide who have been killed by guns since the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Both the rally and the protest attracted about 50 people each.

Democratic U.S. Rep David Price of Chapel Hill decried the fact that Congress has been unable to pass meaningful gun legislation in the wake of the violence at Sandy Hook.

“You know, the gun lobby has a saying that guns don’t kill people, people do,” Price said. “I would like to suggest an amendment to that bumper (sticker): Guns sure do make it real easy.”

Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe spoke out against a bill in the state legislature that would, among other things, loosen gun controls by repealing the state requirement for a permit to buy a handgun. Different versions of the bill have been passed by the House and Senate, and the differences have to be reconciled before the legislation goes to Gov. Pat McCrory.

“That effectively removes the requirement for background checks,” Holcombe said in an interview. “When sheriffs issue these permits, they also do a background check.”

Those checks, she added, “keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, out of domestic abusers’ hands, out of the hands of folks who are seriously mentally ill.”

Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Charlotte Republican and a primary sponsor of the House version of the bill, said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon that the legislation remains a work in progress after the Senate added several provisions – including the amendment governing pistol permits – that weren’t in the House version.

‘We want a balanced bill’

“We want a balanced bill” that can be supported by both sides of the gun issue, Schaffer said. “We want to make sure people are still safe.”

Schaffer also said that any new state law wouldn’t affect the background checks required by federal law. But critics of the Senate version of the bill complain that a loophole in federal law enables criminals to avoid background checks by buying firearms from “private sellers” at gun shows or online.

F. Paul Valone II, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a firearms rights group that organized Saturday’s counter-rally, said restrictive gun laws can have unintended consequences.

“When you create gun-free zones like they have in the city of New York, like they have in the city of Chicago, like they have in schools, you actually attract violent predators who look for unarmed victims,” he said.

Walt Lewis, 68, of Raleigh, the owner of a small construction company, participated in the counter-rally with his wife, Yvonne, “to protect our rights under the Second Amendment,” he said. “We think we’re going to be losing our rights if we don’t start up and offer some resistance.”

‘Things need to change’

On the other side of the street, Meryl Levine, 29, a pastry chef, and her mother Sally Levine, 59, a registered nurse, were holding signs bearing the photos of the children of two family friends who were victims of mass shootings: Daniel Barden, 7, who died at Sandy Hook, and Corey DePooter, 17, who was killed at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“Losing one family friend to a school shooting was shocking enough,” Meryl Levine said. “When the second one came around, it didn’t seem possible.”

“Things need to change,” she said. “We limit plenty of things, but we can’t limit this?”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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