Within the first month of school, there were two lockdowns at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one resulting in the death of a faculty member. Gun violence is not a new issue; North Carolina saw 1,839 firearm-related deaths in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Children in particular are suffering from gun violence now more than ever: firearm-related death rates for children ages zero to 17 increased 231.3% from 2012 to 2021, according to North Carolina’s Child Fatality Task Force

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence was founded in 1993 and advocates for more comprehensive firearm laws, including banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks of all purchases of handguns and funding community violence intervention programs. 

Becky Ceartas is the executive director at NCGV and spoke to Elon News Network about gun violence prevention in North Carolina.

Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence. Photo courtesy of Becky Ceartas.

What is the organization working toward?

We're working towards preventing gun violence and its various forms throughout the state from suicides, the homicides, mass shootings, community gun violence, accidental shootings and domestic violence. These various programs have different solutions, but we do know that there's policies and programs that are evidence based that have been proven to save lives.

Specifically revolving around school shootings with the recent lockdowns at Chapel Hill, what are some of those policies?

There's a couple of things. … We know that there was various elected officials that offered thoughts and prayers after that shooting. And while thoughts and prayers are important, they're not enough. The same lawmakers that offer thoughts and prayers after the tragic event are the same lawmakers that repealed our handgun permitting system and saved countless lives throughout our state for over 100 years. 

Because of this repeal, that shooter could have gone to a gun show or online and bought a gun without a background check. No questions asked. But with the permitting system, he would have had to go to the sheriff's office and get a permit which requires a background check to be able to purchase his handgun no matter where he was buying that handgun that could have prevented him from purchasing this handgun. 

But again, those same lawmakers that are offering these thoughts and prayers were the exact same ones that voted to override Governor Cooper's veto of the repeal of the pistol purchase permitting system

We also know that laws like red flag laws have been proven to also save lives by allowing a family member or law enforcement official or health care provider to petition a judge to … temporarily remove if they're a threat to themselves or others. So again, if this shooter exhibited warning signs, things like being verbally angry or domestic funds or substance abuse — there's a list of different warning signs that somebody could display that would trigger one of those categories. … 

We know that those policies are incredibly effective at preventing suicides and school shootings.

What do you suggest students specifically in North Carolina do? How can they take action?

The first thing they can do is to contact their lawmaker, especially their state lawmaker, because this repeal of the pistol purchase permit system happened at the North Carolina General Assembly. 

They need to hear from people throughout the state that they want them to make gun violence prevention a priority, because we know that when lawmakers at the General Assembly make things a priority, they can get stuff passed, but right now they're going in the exact opposite direction by blocking common sense comrades prevention policy. 

And they also stay at the state level, because unfortunately, in North Carolina, localities can only do as much as the state allows them to do. 

We also know that some of our state lawmakers, specifically House Speaker Tim Moore, has said that we should re-examine whether college campuses should be gun free zones. 

We know that that would again be taking us backwards in the absolute wrong direction. I mean, just imagine if many people are armed on our college campuses, it would make situations much much worse. You know, if law enforcement arrives on the scene, they're not going to be able to tell the active shooter from somebody who just has a gun or multiple people who have a gun. It just makes a situation disastrous, and so we again call on people throughout the state to contact their lawmakers to let them know that guns should not be allowed on campus to let them know that they need to make gun violence prevention policies a priority.