‘Too many deaths’

The Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark addresses state and community leaders, pastors and survivors of gun violence Sunday at Emanuel AME Church during a push for gun-law reform in South Carolina.

BY MELISSA BOUGHTON and JENNIFER BERRY HAWES

mboughton@postandcourier.com, jhawes@postandcourier.com

Tamika Myers stood up front at Emanuel AME Church, where a gunman massacred nine people last summer, holding a giant poster of a smiling 23-year-old.

Myers had talked to that smiling young woman, her daughter, just 15 minutes before the birthday girl was gunned down trying to escape rival gang members who opened fire at a nightclub in St. George. Myers’ daughter died almost two years to the day before a white racist walked into Emanuel and began shooting people with a gun that, had an FBI background check been completed in time, he shouldn’t have been able to purchase.

Sixteen shots rang out as Myers’ daughter tried to escape. “This isn’t Iraq!” Myers told those gathered at Emanuel AME on Sunday.

The roughly 300 people on hand, many of whom rode buses to the event from across the state, understood her outrage. State and community leaders, along with survivors of gun violence, made a strong call to action for gun-law reform Sunday at Emanuel AME Church.

Before her sat the parents of Walter Scott, a motorist who fled from a traffic stop last year and fought with North Charleston officer Michael Slager before the policeman shot him five times as he ran away. Slager said that Scott had grabbed his Taser before a bystander captured the shooting death on video.

Before her also sat Melody McFadden whose 22-year-old niece was shot in the head while at the beach one day. Her mother also was fatally shot in a domestic violence incident.

Also there was Gwen Reed, whose sister and father were shot and killed.

“What happened here at Mother Emanuel and what happened to my sister is preventable,” Reed said.

Almost everyone in the room paid a high price to have their voices heard, but the question remains: How can their message translate to action in the Legislature?

“We have got to stop being casual in our approach to this,” said Pastor Thomas Dixon, a U.S. Senate candidate and cofounder of The Coalition: People United to take Back our Community. “This is war, people.”

He and other speakers at the event expressed frustration that the General Assembly has failed to act on any of the roughly 50 gun-related bills before them, especially bipartisan proposals to close what has become known as the “Charleston loophole,” a legal technicality in gun background checks.

The loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he is accused of using in the massacre last year at Emanuel AME.

S.C. Sen. Marlon E. Kimpson, D-Charleston, spoke at the event Sunday and said he was a cosponsor of Senate bill 917, which extends a three-day waiting period for a background check to 28 days.

“What sense is a background check if the background check doesn’t have to be complete?” he asked. “We’ve got laws that allow people to fly planes and laws that don’t allow people to fly planes, but we don’t have laws preventing the same people from buying a gun. If you can’t fly, you ought not be able to buy.”

Kimpson, whose district includes Emanuel AME, and the Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark, pastor of the church, mentioned that in the past five years, that three-day rule has allowed more than 15,000 guns to be sold to dangerous people, a statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety.

South Carolina is the fourth-deadliest state for gun homicides. There were 5.31 gun slayings for every 100,000 people in the state in 2013, 47 percent higher than the national average, according to the Center for American Progress.

“We need to send a message to the Republicans who would rather spend three months on tracking down 87 refugees in the state of South Carolina, who would rather hold a committee hearing on the bathroom bills,” Kimpson said. “We need to send a message that there’s too many deaths. ... We need to send a message that gun reform is a significant issue in South Carolina.”

Clark delivered a sermon about bringing the nation closer to God and expressed support for extending the background check requirement. She replaced the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who died in the shooting at the church.

“People are being killed day in and day out, and sometimes we wonder if people really care,” she said. “Many people are angry, disappointed and ready for a change.”

The event was organized by local leaders of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Charleston chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. After the prayer service, there was a panel discussion and an EPIX film screening of Katie Couric’s film “Under the Gun.”

Dixon, who invited Myers to speak at the event, said to reach legislators, more people need to get involved.

“There’s a good turnout, but it’s not a large enough voice,” he said. “We have to keep pushing this message forward.”

He said the day is coming when legislators will look out on the Statehouse grounds and see them covered with the same people who are growing tired of their inability to act.

“We’re going to make them understand,” he said, pointing to the election in November. “Or we’re going to shut them down.”

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC. Reach Jennifer Hawes at (843) 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.