Kindergarten student, others speak at ‘Do-Something’ rally

Posted 8/23/19

PITTSBORO — “They said there’s someone with guns in the school,” Tommy said. “We had to hide in the classroom. We were very scared, and one kid cried.”

Tommy — a 6-year-old student …

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Kindergarten student, others speak at ‘Do-Something’ rally

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PITTSBORO — “They said there’s someone with guns in the school,” Tommy said. “We had to hide in the classroom. We were very scared, and one kid cried.”

Tommy — a 6-year-old student at Carrboro Elementary — is proof that even the youngest among us is affected by the potential of gun violence in our schools.

Last Wednesday at 6, before stepping up to the microphone, the youngster watched from the sidelines as adults spoke about stopping gun violence at a peace rally held at the Historic Pittsboro Courthouse to address gun violence. When additional speakers were requested, the young boy left his mother’s side, passed through the group of adults and made his way to the courthouse steps to address the crowd about his personal experience with the topic.

“They said there were guns, but there weren’t,” the boy said in front of the crowd.

His mother cried a bit as her son spoke, moved by his courage speaking in front of the group of more than 50 people at the courthouse steps.

“I was very proud of him to say that,” she said later, requesting that her name and Tommy’s last name not be used. “I got a call about an active shooter. It was terrifying for 15 minutes. Everyone is tired of children in lockdown drills. I mean, he’s in kindergarten.”

The school later reported that no shooter had been present. But the scary reality for parents, teachers and students, 20 years after Columbine, is the very real potential for an actual shooting event.

At last Wednesday’s rally, several teachers spoke about their concerns while on the job.

“I was also a teacher, and I’ve been on that end,” the boy’s mother said. “It’s terrifying. We’re protecting the lives of our students.”

Former Wayne County school principal Dottie Hobbs, also participating in the Pittsboro rally, had very definite ideas about the situation in schools.

“It’s time for something to be done,” Hobbs said. “I lived in fear everyday of guns coming into my school. I thought about it all the time.”

“We’re asleep at the wheel,” said Jennifer Gillis, also speaking at the rally. “Kids are being murdered. People go about their day, it’s commonplace to go out in the morning, and not come home at night.”

“We need to love our children more than we love our guns,” said Alirio Estevez, a local ESL teacher, said.

“We all think that it can’t happen here in Pittsboro,” said Mayor Cindy Perry. “We don’t know. We hope not. We come together so it doesn’t happen.”

As some members of the community came together for the event, other members of the community mocked their efforts — some drove past the small crowd with their hands pointing like guns through their windows. Other passers-by yelled out the name of President Trump. One truck spewed a cloud of black diesel exhaust towards the group.

The vigil, organized by Perry — who said she did so as a private citizen and not as manyor — along with Nancy Jacobs and Mary Hart, wasn’t about any specific political party.

“The Republicans that I know want background checks and reasonable gun laws,” Katie Hart said.

Many speakers said they want to see change, not only in gun laws but in public attitudes about guns in our society.

There are many schools of thought about what the changes should be, speakers said. Some favor legislation to change the types of weapons available. Others want to change who can purchase weapons after a background check. A third option is a Red Flag law to take away guns from someone who may pose a threat to themselves or others.

There are no easy answers, but the community members at the rally last Wednesday had some ideas.

“I think we need a clear first step articulated by political leaders,” Kathy Zinn said after she spoke with state Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54). “For me, the first step is deeper background checks. A lot of people agree with tighter background checks.”

“We need common sense background checks,” said Beth Carter, who carried a “Love trumps hate” sign at the rally. “We do it with cars, it certainly wouldn’t be difficult with guns.”

Some of last Wednesday’s conversation didn’t focus on the handguns used for protection, but rather high-powered weaponry and high-capacity magazines.

Jennifer Gillis shared her concerns.

“I’m really concerned about access to high power weapons. There’s no reason to own that type of weapon, to me,” Gillis said. “An AR-15 is designed to kill a lot of people rapidly, not for protection. If someone wants to own a gun, fine — no reason to own a power gun.”

“We need Red Flag laws,” Hobbs said. “Mental health checks, and remove high capacity guns. Other countries don’t have the level of violence, don’t have access to guns, not high-capacity.”

A common saying after the mass shootings seen in America has been “Our thoughts and prayers going out to people,” but Elaine Chiosso carried a sign that says, “that’s not enough.”

“It’s obviously important for the shootings to stop,” Chiosso said. “Each one is so tragic, and terrible. Nothing is being done. Our leaders offer thoughts and prayers. We need to look hard at gun control. We can’t have people with military grade hardware. To me, it’s not acceptable. The big question to me is why is the USA the leader in these kinds of shootings? We need to try to bring rationality to this. What ever these weapons are, I don’t think they should be allowed. We need to pass bills languishing in North Carolina and Congress. It would be a good place to start.”

“I think we’re lobbying for something completely reasonable,” Allie Gartland said. “If no one fights for it, nothing will change.”

“Look at our culture — what is it that has caused this level of hate?” Chiosso said.

“When hate comes from the top, it influences people in a bad way,” said Carter. “I’m in support of people who have suffered so much.”

“It’s a multi-faceted problem, look at attitudes to each other and the community,” said Gary Leath, pastor of Hank’s Chapel United Church of Christ. “Have concerns about what happens to fellow citizens, address every area that leads us to a mass shooting.”

“It’s a good way to get out and show the community that they’re not alone,” Deanna Hardesty said. “If you think there should be gun legislation, you’re not alone.”

What will the difference be because of this rally?

“It won’t be immediate,” Perry said. “I think most people feel we can’t be silent any longer. That’s what really motivated me to do this.”

Rep. Reives attended the “Do-Something” rally, and for him it had a positive meaning.

“It means people pay attention and people care,” Reives said. “I hope it leads to discussion. I hope they can look at and see more people with their concerns than three or five issues. It’s no longer a partisan issue.”

“If I could say anything, it would be to stop yelling at each other,” Pastor Leath said, “and start talking with each other.”

“We need to love everybody, shouldn’t have to be afraid because of skin color,” Estevez said. “We can change. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It will end soon, but we must start now.”

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