Push for gun reform launched at Emanuel

The Rev. Anthony Thompson of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church releases nine doves on the steps of Emanuel AME Church on Monday morning.

Among the 80 leaders gathered at Emanuel AME Church on Monday were a high school teacher who worries about how to protect students from a shooter, the director of a program for domestic violence victims who wants to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, and five pastors calling on the religious community to push for stronger background checks.

And then they released the doves — nine of them. One for each worshiper fatally shot at the church this summer.

“I don’t know of any other way to honor them (the Emanuel victims) but to do what I can to prevent gun violence from going forward,” said the Rev. Jeremy Rutledge of Circular Congregational Church.

The meeting was organized by Gun Sense SC, a grass-roots movement dedicated to keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to misuse them. The speakers were leaders of the community who don’t want to interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens to buy guns for recreation and protection, but want stronger background checks before guns are purchased.

The speakers included Charleston Mayor Joe Riley; the Rev. Norvel Goff, Emanuel’s pastor; Dr. Robert Ball, an infectious-disease specialist who considers gun violence a public health risk; Police Chief Greg Mullen; Charleston mayor-elect John Tecklenburg; and the Rev. Joe Darby, AME Church Beaufort District presiding elder.

Several speakers pointed out that the avowed white supremacist suspect in the Emanuel slayings should not have been able to buy a gun. The seller ran a background check but it failed to pick up a previous arrest for illegal drugs.

Background checks are required when buying a gun from a dealer but not for private sales at gun shows or through the Internet or classified ads.

Gun Sense founder Meghan Alexander pointed out that gun violence has dropped dramatically in the states that have enacted stronger background checks. Members of her group helped pass a law that was signed this summer to keep more guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, as well as a 2013 law that makes it harder for the mentally ill to get guns.

“We know our voices make a difference,” Alexander said.

The changes are necessary in part because South Carolina leads the nation in the number of women killed in domestic disputes compared to the population, and most of those involved guns, said Mackie Moore, executive director of THRIVE SC.

An event was announced for Stand-Up Sunday, Jan. 31, where 1,200 congregations will “synchronize their hearts and voices” to reduce gun violence and honor victims.

At the end of the meeting, the Rev. Anthony Thompson of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church released the doves. His wife, Myra Thompson, was one of those killed.

“Let this loss not be our city’s legacy,” Riley said, “but rather our response.”

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.