Families to seek action on gun violence

Merrill Chapman (front), co-chair of the Charleston Chapter of the Brady Campaign, along with (from left) Pastor Thomas Dixon, Louis Smith and Rev. Dr. Betty Clark, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, announce that this Sunday afternoon at Emanuel AME Church there will be a prayer service, community discussion and call to action on closing the gun loopholes in South Carolina.

Hundreds of families devastated by gun violence, from Greenville to Myrtle Beach, will unite at Emanuel AME Church on Sunday to pray and demand lawmakers close loopholes in background checks for gun purchases.

The event’s organizers want to express outrage that the General Assembly has failed to act on any of the roughly 50 gun-related bills before them, even in the wake of the horrific massacre in June that left nine worshippers at Emanuel AME dead.

“They’re talking about bathrooms. We’re talking about lives,” said Merrill Chapman, co-president of the Charleston chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She was referring to a bill introduced by Republican state Sen. Lee Bright of Roebuck that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.

On Wednesday, local Brady Campaign leaders and other organizers stood in front of Emanuel AME to announce plans for a prayer service, worship music and a premiere of a Katie Couric documentary about gun violence at the event. Speakers will include Emanuel AME pastor the Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark; state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat whose district includes the church; Charleston NAACP official and AME presiding elder the Rev. Joseph Darby; and Thomas Dixon, a pastor, U.S. Senate candidate and co-founder of The Coalition: People United to take Back our Community.

The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. Sunday when buses will bring about 300 families impacted by gun violence to Emanuel AME Church.

“All these families that are coming in have been impacted — the mommas, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles,” said Louis Smith, co-president of the local Brady Campaign chapter. “We want to tell them that we love them and are fighting for them.”

Nearly 33,000 people die nationwide from gun violence each year, according to the Brady Campaign. About two-thirds are suicides and most of the rest are homicides.

Until lawmakers close background loopholes, “You’re only one second away from becoming a member of that club,” Dixon said.

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.

The man charged with murder in the Emanuel AME shootings, 22-year-old Dylann Roof, should not have been able to purchase a gun because he had admitted possessing illegal drugs before.

A clerical error in his background check delayed its completion. After waiting the required three days, a gun shop owner sold Roof the .45-caliber handgun authorities say he used to kill nine people including the church’s pastor, Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Pinckney’s fellow lawmakers since have had a chance to consider an array of bills pending in the General Assembly.

Among them are bipartisan proposals to close what’s become known as the “Charleston loophole” by extending the required wait for background checks to 28 days.

So far, with the session more than half over, lawmakers haven’t taken action on any bills that would bolster background checks, even though polls show wide bipartisan support among the general public for them.

“We want to tell them the loopholes must be closed — now,” Smith said.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at (843) 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.