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Gun safety protects our schools

The 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary would be heading right now into the summer between fourth and fifth grade, the last year of elementary school, with middle school on the horizon.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the LA Times began tracking school shootings, creating an interactive map to document each incident. Since the tragedy in Newtown, there have been 186 instances of a gun being discharged on a school or university campus. That averages out to almost one shooting per week since 2012.

In North Carolina alone there have been 12 incidents of a firearm being discharged on a school campus — two at elementary schools.

Stories of school shootings and other mass shootings have a ripple effect on all our lives, even when we are not directly touched by the violence. The stories tap into a well of fear that pushes us in search of security mechanisms. A gun is more likely to be used to harm someone in the home than it is to protect us from others seeking to do us harm.1 The proliferation of gun purchases coupled with a lack of appropriate safety standards for gun ownership have contributed to a burgeoning culture of violence in our local communities.

We must turn the tide on gun violence, and we can do so without tampering with the Second Amendment.

In North Carolina, the General Assembly passed a law in 2013 that allows open carry of guns onto playgrounds and local municipalities can do nothing about it. That same law allows guns in locked cars on N.C.’s public college campuses and local college administrators can do nothing about it. And for places of worship to ensure gun-free gatherings, they must proactively and explicitly forbid guns on their grounds.

Over the weekend of June 17-19, 2016, the NC Council of Churches and our broad range of coalition partners are calling on faith communities to increase their awareness of gun safety by becoming familiar with the good laws we do have in North Carolina, advocating to strengthen laws for gun safety, and learning how to safely store and use the guns we have.

For the families of the nine people murdered while attending a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, this will be the second summer without their loved ones, almost exactly one year ago. Like the first-grade classroom of an elementary school, a haven of peace and security was shattered by a horrifying destructive force. The Stand Up Sabbath marks the anniversary of the Mother Emanuel shooting deaths in Charleston, S.C., but we also hope it moves us toward more sensible and responsible gun ownership.

Since the deaths at Mother Emanuel, there has been at least one mass shooting (four or more victims) each week in this country. These “sensational” shootings account for less than 2 percent of firearm deaths in our country.

More germane to our everyday lives, 1.7 million children live in a home with an unlocked, loaded gun and about once a week children under the age of three shoot someone—often themselves.

Twice a day someone under the age of 18 is shot and killed.

Two-thirds of women killed in domestic violence cases are shot.

The risk of suicide is up to five-times higher for people in gun-owning households.

We must change these statistics. Here are some things we can do as individuals, in our faith communities, at our schools, and in partnership with a number of organizations:

  • Tell our elected leaders that you support common sense gun laws that keep us genuinely safe. The Council’s partner groups, some of whom are North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, MomsRising, and Moms Demand Action, have led grassroots efforts in North Carolina to prompt compromises on some of the most dangerous changes to gun legislation proposed by the General Assembly.
  • Educate yourself about proposals and legislation related to gun safety at the federal and state level. The vast majority of Americans want reasonable gun regulation (85 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members support background checks on all gun sales; in 2013, 92 percent of Americans supported universal background checks).
  • Participate in programs like the ASK Campaign ( to make sure your children are playing in homes where guns are locked and secured. You can also encourage your school system to send home letters encouraging parents to participate in ASK.

Please Stand Up during your worship service the weekend of June 17-19 to remember the Emanuel Nine and pledge your support for better gun safety. If you are not affiliated with a faith community, please take a moment to remember the lives lost. Let’s work together for a state and nation where the right to gun ownership is respected, but where sensible measures and reasonable leaders actually keep us safer.

Learn more at

Rev. Jennifer Copeland, PhD.

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer E. Copeland is the executive director of the NC Council of Churches.