Just two days after a deadly school shooting in Nashville, North Carolina legislators voted on Wednesday to repeal the state’s handgun permit requirement. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office will also no longer issue or require handgun permits for individuals to purchase a handgun.
The new law also allows concealed carry of guns at churches located on educational properties, as long as it is outside of operating school hours and related activities are not underway. The legislation responsible for these changes is Senate Bill 41.
In relation to the Nashville shooting, which left three adults and three children dead, the shooter was identified as Audrey Hale — a 28-year-old who formerly attended the school and was being treated for an unspecified emotional disorder. Hale had recently purchased seven guns legally and used three of them in the shooting: two assault rifles and a handgun.
Freshman Maddie Hewgley said hearing about the Nashville school shooting and North Carolina’s legislation felt unreal.
“It feels like I'm living in the worst timeline ever,” Hewgley said.“But it also is eye opening. A lot of people say, ‘how many more kids, how many more people are going to have to die for real change to occur?’ And when something like this happens it becomes apparent that for these policymakers who are trying to make it easier to possess firearms, it doesn't matter to them how many people are dying. That's not what they care about.”
Hewgley said that news of the shooting and North Carolina’s new legislation made her think of the dire circumstances in her hometown of St. Louis. Missouri has some of the weakest gun laws in the country, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, with no background checks, permit requirements, age minimums or laws prohibiting domestic abusers from owning guns. The state repealed background checks in 2007 when Hewgley was just a toddler, and since then has seen a 27% increase in firearm homicides.
“I've pretty much grown up my whole life feeling the effects of gun violence. I've lost many loved ones to gun violence. And so hearing about that happening in North Carolina really took me back because I know what it means,” Hewgley said. “I know what the subsequent outcomes will be. I know it puts all of us in North Carolina, all of our safety in jeopardy.”
Junior Rylee McKinney feels especially concerned for her safety as an aspiring teacher. She is pursuing a degree in English with teaching licensure, but she said that as school shootings happen one after another — and the field becomes increasingly fraught with political debate — she feels less certain about her future plans.
“Nobody wants to pursue a four-year degree and go into a career where they feel like their life is going to be threatened,” McKinney said. “I think the hardest part is just that a classroom is supposed to be a supportive environment for not only the students, but the teachers and the larger community as well. But the fact that there's so much chaos and little control happening within the school systems, I think that just brings on a lot of fear and doubt, for my future, at least.”
With her graduation just a year away, she has begun to think seriously about the possibility of a shooting happening in her own classroom. She said that school has always felt like a safe place to her, but the unrelenting stories of mass shootings have shifted that perspective.
As a teaching fellow, McKinney is spending her spring semester in New Zealand taking education courses at the University of Otago. New Zealand is known for its low rates of gun violence, as lawmakers swiftly banned assault rifles in 2019 after the country saw its first mass shooting in decades. McKinney said that when she meets international students at the university, one of the first things they ask her about is America’s gun problem.
“Every single time I struggle to explain it, because I just am like, ‘I'm in the same boat. I don't know why this keeps happening and they’re not fixing it,’” McKinney said.
In a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, states that require background checks show 10% lower rates of firearm homicides.
A poll conducted by a center-left think tank, in conjunction with a Republican polling firm, found that 89% of voters — including more than eight in 10 Republicans, conservatives and gun owners — support requiring background checks for all gun purchases as of June 2022.
Nonetheless, 71 North Carolina House Republicans voted against 46 Democrats to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of SB41. Proponents say the process for getting a permit could be arbitrary and racially biased, so eliminating it makes access to guns more equitable.
Elon sociology professor Tom Arcaro said that politics cannot be separated from the issue.
“I've seen this play out depressingly a long time and at this point, it's just frankly very frustrating,” Arcaro said. “It seems as if the political right has a stranglehold on the truth. And by that, I mean the truth is that more guns mean more gun deaths.”
From his years of studying social structures, Arcaro said he believes there is a connection between the passing of SB41 and structures of race and power.
“It’s not about Second Amendment freedoms, I mean, every other amendment has all kinds of limitations to it,” Arcaro said. “A sober country, a country with actual adults in the room, would do something. And we don't have adults in charge.”
Though the statistics and headlines can be overwhelming, Hewgley said her response is to take action rather than feel desensitized. She has been involved with gun violence advocacy since the age of 12, when she joined Mothers Demand Action with her mother. When she noticed there was not a version of the group for young people in her area, she started Students Demand Action in St. Louis.
“It's horrific, and it makes me really sad, and yes, I cry about it a lot. But I have learned how to channel that sadness and frustration into putting in the work. Because just letting it really get to me and make me sad doesn't help the issue at all,” Hewgley said.
Hewgley said Elon does not have a group devoted to gun violence advocacy, but she does what she can to encourage students to get involved with the issue. Hewgley suggested students and members of the Elon community do small things that can make a difference, such as calling state representatives to make their opinions heard or simply educating themselves and others on gun safety.
McKinney said that until this point, her professors and classmates have largely avoided conversations about school shootings in her classes.
“It's a really hard topic to talk about. Especially when it involves children who are obviously innocent and have no real perception of the actual division and binary happening in politics and everything about gun laws,” McKinney said. “I think Elon’s lack of conversation about it is definitely a reflection of how society is kind of scared to talk about it in a way. But I think we're going to probably see changes in the next few weeks.”
Arcaro also said he tries to remain hopeful.
“There's a wonderful quote, and I use it all the time from Cornel West, he said that ‘I am a prisoner of hope,’” Arcaro said. “In every sense of that entire phrase, I have to remain a prisoner of hope, because believing that we can’t respond in some way and make things better is, frankly, a depressing position to be in.”