People really get up in arms over the topic of gun control.
No pun intended. But, really, pun intended.
Gun control has become a taboo subject that staunchly divides constituents, but what if it's finally and officially relabeled a public health crisis, not just a moral one? When the medical community enters a fight, change occurs. When doctors stand up and say too many people are dying, the general public listens. A medical perspective is the reason wearing a seat belt became law. It's the reason children ride in car seats.
The mission of Gun Sense SC is to address the issue of gun control as a public health crisis by educating citizens, building awareness, and supporting nonpartisan legislation.
Meghan Alexander, founder of Gun Sense SC, says that Charleston was galvanized by the tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME on June 17th, 2015. "No matter what their background, so many people were emotionally impacted and devastated by the fact that this happened in our state and in the most tender spot: in a place of worship while people were doing the most peaceful thing imaginable."
In the days after the June 17, 2015 shooting, Meghan rallied her supporters and developed her goal. "A lot of my family members are gun owners—my uncle is a veteran, my father shot trap and skeet competitively for years—and so they were the first people I reached out to, and once I understood what was possible in South Carolina and could tell them, they were fully on board. They said, 'Do something, and we will help.'"
One of Gun Sense SC's main aims is to require background checks on all gun purchases by closing loopholes. Gun regulations today apply only to federally licensed gun dealers. As a result, a large percentage of guns sold in America—believed to be 40% or more—are purchased at gun shows or via the Internet, with no background checks required. (U.S. DOJ, National Institute of Justice Research, 1997)
Meghan says, "Yes, the background check system is imperfect. It's never going to be perfect, but it's the best tool we have to reduce the more than 700 people last year who died because of gun violence in our state. We can't ignore our greatest tool."
Meghan continues, "The problem is that it's become so partisan and so divisive. People don't talk about specifics. When you talk about generalities, you can argue all day long, but, the truth is, when you start talking about specifics it gets really clear and fundamental. The purpose of this is to prevent the most dangerous people from being able to buy a gun and to ensure people who are selling guns are following the same rules."
Meghan, 45, worked in marketing and public relations in D.C. and New York before starting her own firm in Charleston. This professional background helps because, she says, "When you're talking about getting people to engage in a difficult conversation, it's all about communication. What are the important things to be talking about? What do you need to acknowledge?"
She brings her point around to gun control: "It's all about acknowledging that the divergent viewpoints in this discussion are both based in fear. They're both based in a desire to protect the people that we love and our communities and congregations. But most gun owners are concerned with gun safety and respecting the guns in their homes."
It's about remaining logical. Meghan reiterates, "A background check is not a process that keeps law abiding citizens from buying a gun."
Gun Sense SC is not a challenge to Second Amendment Rights.
Now, Meghan shares her leadership role at Gun Sense with Jessica Boylston-Fagonde. Their chairman is Dr. Richard Hagerty, a retired physician who urges the medical community to treat gun violence as any other public health crisis. Judy Hines, a celebrated activist in Charleston, is helping rewrite legislation. At their meeting in December, the door continually opened, well into the hour, to admit more citizens willing to stand cramped in the corner to learn how they could help.
Meghan wishes to share Gun Sense SC with anyone in South Carolina who wants to help the cause. Gun Sense urges constituents to write or call their legislator—or, even better, to schedule a meeting in person. To donate just $15 to the organization to help fund outreach programs.
To officially introduce themselves to the public, the organization held a press conference in the room of Mother Emanuel where the June 17 massacre took place. Meghan says, "We knew that coming together in that space would bring home the harsh reality of what we're talking about."
At the end of the press conference, from the steps of the church, Myra Thompson's husband, Rev. Anthony Thompson, released nine doves.
Meghan adds, "And I released one for hope. The bells started to ring, and we all started to sob."
Rev. Thompson also stood up in the audience to help introduce Gun Sense's upcoming event, Stand-Up Sunday. According to Gun Sense's literature, "Stand-Up Sunday is a day when we all stand up for the Nine. The nine killed by a gun at Emanuel AME in Charleston. The nine in our state who are killed by guns every five days. And the nine out of every ten South Carolinians who want background checks on all gun purchases, according to the most recent statewide poll."
On January 31—or the 29 or 30, if participating instead in Stand-Up Sabbath—houses of worship across the state will discuss gun violence and the urgent need to close loopholes that circumvent background checks, they'll encourage congregants to sign prepared letters to legislators or write their own, and they'll ask nine members to stand up for the Emanuel 9 by committing to travel to Columbia, S.C., to support critical legislation.
Churches in the South are where a real sense of community still lives, and more than 1,100 churches across the state are already involved in Stand-Up Sunday, with the deadline to participate remaining open through the weekend.
Gun Sense SC is about coming together as congregations, as a medical community, as cities, and a state.
"We knew in the beginning that we had to be not only non-gun-owners, but gun owners. Democrats and republicans. People affected, people not affected. Our group is representative of the state. We are a community of people in crisis, and collectively we need to stand up and do something."
To participate in Stand-Up Sunday/Sabbath, email gunsenseSC@gmail.com with your place of worship’s name, your name and email address, and say, “We’re in!”
Donations can be made on their website or through the mail, and monthly meetings are the first Tuesday of every month.
Gun Sense SC
1000 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Words by Elizabeth Bowers