Midlands residents tried to find common ground between gun owners and those proposing stricter background checks at a Gun Sense SC meeting Sunday.
The nonprofit launched in Charleston in the wake of the June shootings that left nine people dead at the historic Emanuel AME Church. Organizers say the group has one goal – change state law so that every retail gun sale requires a background check.
“Our group is trying to reduce death by gun violence by half, and the way we’re trying to do that is to have background checks on the sales of all guns,” said Richard “Duke” Haggerty, board chair for the nonprofit. “That is all we’re doing – period.”
Current law requires background checks at sales conducted by dealers with federal firearms licenses, but does not require checks for private transactions. Some sellers at gun shows are not professional gun dealers and their sales are classed as private transactions – a loophole Midlands law enforcement leaders have said they would like to see closed.
Between 20 and 30 people attended Sunday’s meeting at the St. Andrews branch of the Richland County Public Library. Discussion points included fundraising, legislation, fostering cooperation with gun owners and sellers, and reframing the issue as one of public health rather than “gun control.”
One attendee, Tim Clarke, identified himself as a concealed weapons permit holder and National Rifle Association member, as well as a retired law enforcement officer. Clarke emphasized that for Gun Sense to succeed, members should build partnerships with gun shop owners.
“Getting those guys to wrap their minds around what you’re doing is going to advance it a lot more than people that are already (in favor),” Clarke said. “They’re probably standoff-ish just because they automatically think ... that you’re going after this thing across the board. It makes more sense with the whole narrow target (focused on background checks) you’re doing, that this isn’t trampling the 2nd Amendment.”
Grant Sullivan, a local physician, is spearheading the Columbia chapter, and organizers will travel to Greenville and Myrtle Beach in the near future to recruit members in those cities. The nonprofit does not accept donations from large interest groups and is funded by individual donations, according to Jessica Boylston-Fagonde.
Boylston-Fagonde said for her, inspiration to take action came from a meeting she had with Clementa Pinckney, a pastor at Emanuel, nine months before he was killed in the shooting.
“He made a profound difference in just one day of being with him,” she said. “When our president sent out an email saying, ‘Let’s finish the job Rev. Pinckney began,’ I knew that was my first assignment. That was something I wanted to do.”