I’m pretty sure I was four or five the first time I held a gun. It was a BB gun, but I don’t think that matters much in the context of the story. We lived in the mountains of North Carolina in a small quiet neighborhood where there would often be wild dogs running around. This drove my father nuts. He would open the sliding glass doors and yell and scream at them. And sometimes he would grab his BB gun and shoot at them to warn them of the dangers of trespassing in our yard. The day I decided to help him, I remember it was warm and I had on shorts and likely had just removed my white and pink roller-skates. I’d watched him shoot at the dogs already that morning, and when I saw them running back towards my swing set, I knew it was my duty to protect it. My memory is vivid and in full color: I pick up the BB gun, hold it to my shoulder (just like Dad), and pull the trigger. Then I feel something stinging on my cheek and hear the strangest sound— like trickling water. What I heard wasn’t water, it was the sound of the sliding glass door splintering into a thousand tiny, unmoving pieces of shatterproof glass. It seemed to take hours for the entire piece to fracture and split. Then it just sat there in silence, impeding the view of the yard—or the dogs. During the seconds it took for all this to pass, my mom and dad had heard the commotion and came running into the room. Dad was livid and Mom was worrying about me and simultaneously yelling at my dad, who’d left the gun laying right beside the door. I don’t remember much else other than being sent to my room to cry, and worry, and cry. It was just leaning there, wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?
The first time he actually handed me a weapon I was closer to 12. Dad had decided that, since he was a volunteer policeman, I should learn to shoot. I knew he always kept a loaded handgun in his glove-box, but I knew not to touch it. I’d had the fear of death scared into me the last time, and this girl has always been a quick learner. This day we went out to a rock quarry and he handed me a handgun that, if memory serves, was the same one Dirty Harry used. That sucker was massive. And loud, and scary, and knocked me down. I didn’t like it and made sure that was the last time I ever held a gun. You see, Southern women are no strangers to guns. Most of us have men in our family who hunt or just shoot, so we’ve usually seen them around. I always get a laugh when someone jokes that I am Southern so therefore I should understand the “right to bear arms argument.” I don’t. I don’t because the argument should be “guns can and are used to harm others and therefore we should know good and well if the people buying them are dangerous people who are prohibited from having them.”
I became concerned about guns in my community in 2014 when Governor Nikki Haley signed into law bill S308, allowing those with concealed weapons permits (CWPs) to carry concealed handguns into bars and restaurants. I spent most of my twenties working in bars and restaurants, and this scared me to death. But the day I decided I needed to become more involved and speak out about gun reform was June of 2016, when House Democrats staged a sit-in. I sat watching at home and became infuriated that the voices of Americans who believe in responsible gun ownership weren’t being heard. Our children were dying, our leaders were being shot, and we didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Despite being involved in nonprofit work for four years, I had no experience in any policy work despite writing my legislators for matters I felt were important. I don’t think I’d ever even gotten more than one response, but I keep on writing. But that night, I got on Twitter and Facebook and made the decision to let them know my feelings. I wrote every SC Legislator I could find. I’d had enough.
I was tired of South Carolina being number one in women killed by their current or former partners. (We’ve now moved down to number five, but better isn’t good enough.) In 2014 (the most recent data available), there were 266 gun homicides in SC, and the rate of gun homicides in SC was 60 percent higher than the national average. There were also 479 gun suicides in 2014, and the rate of gun suicides in SC was 48 percent higher than the national average. Having lost two friends in one year to suicide by gun, I’ve had enough. I’ve also had enough of a group of people determining what can be studied and what data can be collected. I have continued to write my legislators about the need to change the Dickey Amendment, which bans the Centers for Disease Control from researching gun violence. Prior to the amendment’s passing in 1996, the CDC received more than two million dollars for injury and disease prevention research. This bill was introduced after hard lobbying from the National Rifle Association and is important because legislators refuse to make changes citing a lack of evidence…but they won’t fund the research needed to gather the evidence. My letters go unanswered and nothing changes.
So, here I am getting involved locally with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group of concerned and involved citizens who have also had enough. If you’ve ever met a pissed off mom, you know we get shit done. Moms Demand Action was started by Shannon Watts, a mother of five who was motivated to make change after the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook School. Moms Demand Action has grown into millions of members in every state. They have active campaigns to ensure everyone is aware that the message is about preventing gun violence while supporting the Second Amendment. There are common steps that can make us safer while respecting the Second Amendment—the simplest is just to make sure every gun sale requires a completed background check. Right now advocates in South Carolina (and other states) are working to close what is known as the “Charleston Loophole,” which allows dealers to sell a firearm after three business days even if the background check isn’t yet completed. I continue to be flabbergasted by anyone who sees a problem with closing this loophole. Perhaps that is my Southern girl slow-and-easy attitude, but come on. The notion that delaying a person’s ability to purchase a gun until it is evident they can legally do so infringes upon their rights is just plain ludicrous. Forgot to plan your hunting trip in time? Too bad. Nearly 60,000 dangerous people have bought guns through this loophole since 1998, including the person who shot nine churchgoers in Charleston. I think this loophole should be closed. If you agree, you can help by showing up at the two remaining Senate Gun Issues Special Committee hearings in South Carolina. You can get more information and RSVP here: on October 18th in Hartsville – and October 27th in Columbia.
Three children have died by guns in over the course of just two weeks in South Carolina. Children who should be celebrating birthdays and playing like superheroes, not having Batmobiles lead their funeral processions. They should be riding bikes, flying kites, eating M&M’s, watching Elmo, laughing, giggling, and living—not dying by guns. As a mother of three small people in whose eyes I see joy, life, excitement, and never-ending possibility, I know there is nothing to do but work for change. So, for my children, your children, all children, I invite you to join me to make South Carolina a safer place. Just because I’m a sweet Southern lady doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice or that I won’t use it. I will. I am.