UNC Chapel Hill students demand the General Assembly take action to curb gun violence following a fatal shooting on their campus. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)
Students from across North Carolina gathered in front of the Legislative Building Tuesday to demand that Republicans pass bills that tighten people’s access to guns.
“Being part of the lockdown generation is not something you want to be a part of,” said Leah Krevat, a 20-year-old who has been a gun reform activist for five years. “We need to pass background checks, red flag laws that ban assault weapons, because we can’t keep living like this.”
That is the opposite of what legislators did in a House Judiciary Committee earlier that morning, as they advanced a bill that could make it easier for certain North Carolinians to get a concealed handgun permit.
House Bill 22 would clarify the legal reasoning for denying a concealed handgun permit based on a person’s military discharge status. Andrew Stevens, from the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said people who leave the military service with a dishonorable or other-than-honorable discharge would still be prohibited from obtaining a sheriff-issued concealed handgun permit under the proposal. However, the bill would clear “an obstacle to securing a sheriff-issued concealed handgun permit by individuals who by law are not prohibited from possessing handguns.”
Minutes after that bill passed out of committee, Krevat appeared alongside several other young adults at a press conference to demand lawmakers take action.
“Why does this keep happening?” asked Luke Diasio, a senior at UNC. “We’ve had shooting, after shooting, after shooting, yet we don’t seem to do anything about it.”
Diasio was on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus during an Aug. 28 shooting, in which a graduate student allegedly shot his faculty adviser. The adviser died, and the campus was locked down for three hours. Days before that, there was a shooting at N.C. A&T University.
“Another day, another undue shooting, another life taken, another school year tarnished, and yet still another complacent governing body,” said Kema Leonard, a student at A&T. “We, the young people of this state and the young people of this union, call on our current elected officials to do the work to match your prayers, or count your days in office.”
Outraged students recounted the ways the shootings have affected them: shuddering when they hear loud pops, checking their phones for active shooter warnings when they hear sirens, making note of where all the exits are, and always plotting an escape, just in case.
“I know you aren’t listening to me or the millions of other young people screaming for change, because you’ve never had to think about whether you’re going to be shot when you’re just trying to sit and learn in history class,” said Amie Boakye, a sophomore at UNC, who said she has been present during multiple shootings.
Hailey Baldwin, also a sophomore at UNC, recounted the horrific choice she and those with her faced, as the gunman roamed the campus. They sat on the floor of the dining hall for three hours, debating whether to go upstairs, where they might be better able to hide, or stay put in the dining hall, where there were better chances of escape. They chose the dining hall, prioritizing the ability to run over the chance to hide.
“There are no words to describe the fear that gripped us as the minutes dragged on,” Baldwin said.
The danger lifted, but the fear didn’t. Baldin awoke the next day with a tightness in her chest, exhausted and anxious. But if the shooting took her sense of safety and innocence, it also gave her a resolve to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I’m here today in the hopes that all this pain can be converted into empathy, and then into action,” she said.
Democrats are aware of the futility of trying to advance legislation themselves. House Democrats have filed more than a dozen bills over the past seven years that would reform the state’s gun laws, Rep. Laura Budd (D-Mecklenburg), said at the press conference. But none of those bills, nor any filed by their Democratic colleagues in the Senate, have made it out of committee, as House Bill 22 — sponsored by five Republicans — did earlier that day.
“What we don’t need is more bills filed and more legislation proposed per se,” Budd said. “What we need is the Republicans to stop being afraid of democracy: put those bills out there, allow them to be heard, allow them to be debated, allow public comments on them, and ultimately allow them to be voted on the House and Senate floor.”
The student demonstrators pointed out that the Republican legislative majority has made it harder to vote but easier to acquire a firearm. They noted that Black and Native Americans are disproportionately more likely to be victims of gun violence, emphasizing that gun reform is a racial justice issue. And they demanded funding for mental health care, since more than half of all firearm deaths are suicides.
Those in attendance, many of whom were wearing the Carolina Blue of UNC, recounted the terror of hiding on campus, unsure if they would see their families or friends again.
“We can’t forget,” said Sloane Duvall, secretary of UNC Young Democrats, who said she saw it as their job to remind those in power of the need for action.
“They forgot the moment they tweeted their thoughts and prayers,” she said.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.