How do you measure a year? For parents, it’s often in milestones in our children’s lives: the first day of school, birthday celebrations, a first lost tooth. But for too many parents in this country, a year is measured in the days since they lost their children to gun violence.
Dec. 14, 2012, was the last straw for many American mothers when 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. That was followed by the heartbreaking shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago a month later. Since then, the continued drumbeat of senseless shootings has helped focus the public’s attention on the epidemic of American gun violence.
In the nearly two years since the Newtown parents held their children for the last time and since a horrified nation vowed that something had to be done, national gun-safety efforts have been stalled. In states like ours, in fact, gun safety has been rolled back.
A year ago on Oct. 1, new measures went into effect that weakened North Carolina’s gun laws and expanded the places a person with a concealed handgun permit may take loaded firearms. As mothers, we see this as the anniversary of the date when N.C. policymakers prioritized gun rights over the public health and the safety of our children, families and communities.
Here’s the impact of policymakers’ votes on this crucial issue:
• Open (no permit required) and concealed carry (permit required) of loaded firearms is legal in most areas of public life in North Carolina, unless prohibited by “conspicuous” signage.
• Cities, towns and counties can no longer regulate firearms in their borders and are forced to allow concealed handgun permit holders to carry in playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, greenways, at parades, funerals and on athletic fields.
• Concealed guns are now allowed in N.C. restaurants and bars. Concealed permit holders themselves, several of whom are bartenders and restaurant owners and managers, strongly disagree with the law allowing guns in places that serve alcohol – and are the first to post signs to keep guns out of their places of business. Attitudes about the deadly mix of guns and alcohol are consistent across the country, with the public strongly opposing allowing guns on college campuses (94 percent), at sports stadiums (94 percent), bars (93 percent) and restaurants (88 percent). North Carolina is no different. A recent Elon poll found that N.C. residents want more gun regulation, not less.
Even now, a fight is brewing over whether the new law allows guns at our beloved N.C. State Fair, overruling a no-guns policy in place for decades. Guns have no place among the fried Twinkies, rides and pig racing that make the fair a much-cherished tradition for families. As moms, we applaud State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler for refusing to change the policy and standing up to those who threaten lawsuits to overturn it. Moms really have no interest in taking our children where the person in front of us on the funnel-cake line might be packing.
Since last year, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned:
We’ve learned that some of our friends and fellow parents own firearms and aren’t afraid to talk about safe and responsible gun ownership, which is a good thing for our community. We’ve learned to ask about firearms when our children go on playdates and understand that the safest homes have either no firearms or firearms that are locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately. We’ve learned that an estimated two children per week are killed with unsecured firearms in their homes or the home of a friend. North Carolina has reported four such deaths in 2014.
Perhaps most importantly we’ve learned that we can advocate sensible laws that protect our children, families, neighbors. Moms demand to be safe from gun violence. Easy access to firearms threatens the health and safety of all of our children. We can hold our N.C. elected officials accountable for protecting the public’s safety. We can ask our local grocery stores to prohibit the open carry of loaded weapons while we’re shopping for our families. We can join the growing movement of American mothers who demand “not one more” death due to gun violence.
Beth Messersmith is N.C. campaign director of MomsRising.org.