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Groups on both sides of gun debate rally in downtown Raleigh

Posted June 22, 2013
Updated June 24, 2013

— As part of ongoing effort to get Congress to pass "common-sense gun laws," supporters of Mayors Against Illegal Guns rallied in downtown Raleigh's Moore Square Saturday to call for lawmakers to strengthen the country's background check system. 

The group, a coalition of more than 900 mayors from across the country, is conducting a 100-day bus tour that began following a June 14 ceremony that marked the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was one of 20 first graders slain in the Dec. 14, 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook, was part of the group that addressed the crowd Saturday morning. Heslin said he owes it to his son to try and convince lawmakers to expand current background check systems. 

"The three things that are the most important are the background checks...the mental health...and better school security," Heslin said. "If we had better school security in place and a better background check system in place, they could have identified Adam Lanza as a risk to himself or others. It could have prevented it."

Gun rights advocates with Grass Roots NC were also at Moore Square Saturday morning in response to the bus tour, holding signs and telling the assembled crowd that guns save lives.

Paul Valone said he came to the rally to defend his rights under the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment.

"These people are trying to control us. We simply do not wish to be controlled," he said. "We are looking to expand our concealed weapons laws into other areas to allow people to better protect themselves."

Joslin Simms, whose son Rayburn was murdered in Durham in 2005, said the rally wasn't designed to tell people they can't own guns.

"Everybody has a right to protect themselves," she said. "We are here asking for background checks for these guns at gun shows and private gun sales. Even with the background checks, it's not going to stop all the murders. But it will help a lot."

Valone said that expanding background checks won't necessarily prevent violent crime, including mass shootings like the one in Newtown.

"The law was followed and background check was completed," he said of the weapons used by Lanza at Sandy Hook. "If anything, it demonstrates more clearly that if somebody wants to obtain a firearm illegally they are going to do that and no measure of gun control is going to do that."

Simms addressed the Grass Roots NC supporters from the podium, telling them her son had the same right to live as they do to own a gun.

"Y'all can stand over there and say, 'guns save lives,' but they also take away lives. Innocent lives," she said. "We need to think about that just as much."

Heslin said the two sides have to compromise before lawmakers will be able to pass any legislation with true impact. 

"It's not about taking somebody's rights or infringing on the Second Amendment," he said. "Let's better and expand the system that is already in place."

Heslin and Simms were joined at the podium by Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price, who said an expanded background check system could help prevent some of the gun violence that cities deal with daily. 

"As incomprehensible as mass shootings are, the scourge of gun violence is not confined to these horrific headline-generating massacres," Price said. "It is an everyday reality in our cities and towns and neighborhoods."

Price also criticized North Carolina lawmakers for introducing legislation that "weakens existing restrictions."

House Bill 937, which was rewritten and passed by the North Carolina Senate on June 13, strengthens some penalties for those who commit crimes using a gun. Despite that, it also eliminates pistol permits and expands where those who have concealed carry permits may take their guns.

Permit holders would be able to carry firearms in businesses that serve alcohol although they would not be allowed to drink, in funeral processions, on playgrounds, and at sporting events. After Senate approval, the bill was sent to House Rules Committee.

"Statewide polls have shown that as many as 90 percent of North Carolinians agree we should keep guns out of the hands of criminals by requiring people purchasing guns pass a criminal background check first," he said. "Some in Congress haven't gotten your message, or are ignoring you. Congress must pass this common-sense reform to make our communities safer."


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  • slaed101 Jun 24, 2013

    Anti-gunners keep repeating that "90 percent" lie hoping they can get people to believe it. I've seen numerous polls regarding increased background checks or further gun control and the highest number I've seen is 40 percent. The 40 percent numbers were from biased anti-gun group polls and other polls were less than 20 percent.

    All firearms purchased from FFL dealers (whether brick and mortar store or at a gun show) have to go through a NICS background check. The current legislation that eliminates pistol purchase permits will still require pistol purchasers to undergo a NICS background check. The main benefit of the permit elimination will put everyone on equal ground from Sheriffs that issue or deny permits solely on their whims or requiring excessive hoops for law abiding citizens

  • celtiquedreamz Jun 24, 2013

    Mr. Middle of the Road - I applaud you for your civil tone and conversation rather than spitting and yelling your point. Proof that reasonable conversation can lead to productive leadership and effective change. Please accept my sincere thanks. We need to avoid low hanging fruit and address the challenging issues. Avoiding the heart of the issue will only make "feel good" legislation. We all need to contact our local representatives and inform them that we will not tolerate inaction or poorly planned legislation anymore. As a hunter myself, I want to shoot whatever legal gun and carry as many rounds as I want.

  • surfermom Jun 24, 2013

    no one heckled the parents of the slain children - only the politicans were heckled, as it should have been!

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Jun 24, 2013

    celtiquedreamz, while I do favor restrictions on weapons of mass destruction, I also am in favor of allowing ownership of certain weapons to protect oneself and to hunt. But, your point of no one adressing the other causes of mass shootings is well taken. I agree. I would like to see as much discussion go into mental health isues as goes into gun control.

  • Zealotry Jun 24, 2013

    celtiquedreamz, You made my point perfectly. If you deny someone their rights based on any criteria whether it be the 2nd amendment or the 14th, then we are right back to our rights being "allowed" to us by government instead of being God given. After what we have seen over the last 3 months with the IRS, NSA, Justice Dept. etc. does anyone really want to allow the government to have the power to disarm us based on their interpretation of "mental stability"?

  • celtiquedreamz Jun 24, 2013

    Zealotry, Early legislation (1950's-1960's) for conceal and carry laws were sometimes misguided in that they were used to discourage, intimidate, or prevent people of color from obtaining a purchase permit or conceal and carry license since it had to go through law enforcement and not through other governmental entities. Your comment of prohibition to vote based on mental illness parallels to say if you are black, you cannot have a gun nor a vote.

  • Zealotry Jun 24, 2013

    If someone is denied a gun due mental illness, then they should also be denied the ability to vote.

  • Cock a doodle doo Jun 24, 2013

    It was disgusting to see the gun proponents heckling the speakers of the pro gun control advocates this weekend. People who had lost family members to gun violence were being called nasty names and heckled for standing up to voice their opinion. It was totally deplorable. I believe in the ability for Americans to have and carry firearms. I am also for everyone to be able to use their right to free speech.

    It is a shame, a crying shame, that the pro-gun people had to resort to name calling and deplorable behavior.

  • celtiquedreamz Jun 24, 2013

    We need to address the social issues that lead to gun violence. I do not see the media publicizing about race on race violence, poverty, or stopping gang units. I do not see any news stories about churches, non profits, or the community helping to deter drug use or staying out of gangs or the mental health workers who are assigned over 40 cases PER PERSON because the fat cats in government keep slicing away at the very fabric meant as a safety net to those who desperately need it. Maybe if we focused what is driving the gun violence (Mental Health, Poverty, Drug Use, and Gang Prevention) we wouldn't always have a knee yank reaction to gun violence when it boils over and we would see a reduction in violence. If Gun control worked, Chicago would be the safest place in the country. An unarmed law abiding citizen is an armed criminal assailant's best target.

  • OneNationUnderGod Jun 24, 2013

    "Permit holders would be able to carry firearms in businesses that serve alcohol, funeral processions, playgrounds, at sporting events and on all school property. After Senate approval, the bill was sent to House Rules Committee."-WRAL

    Your being untruthful yet again WRAL... Permittees would not be able to carry on "all school property" They would simply be able to have their legally owned firearm locked inside their vehicle while out in a parking lot on a school's property. Great job on nailing down the facts...maybe read the bill next time out ok?