Guns, Politics, and Freedom
May 17, 2000

The gun debate comes to Charlotte

By F. Paul Valone


The following column was published in The Charlotte Observer on May 17, 2000, under the title “March will declare that ‘Guns Save Lives,” in anticipation of the NRA annual meeting in Charlotte. The NRA’s previous annual meeting, held in Denver shortly after the Columbine massacre, had induced anti-gun demonstrators to converge from around the country.


As the newly-formed Charlotte Coalition to Stop Gun Violence holds a series of performances, vigils and marches across the National Rifle Association convention, Charlotte again finds itself at the scene of a high speed crash between conflicting ideologies.


Although the NRA plans no response, Grass Roots North Carolina (which I represent) will hold a Gun Rights Solidarity March and a graphic street theater entitled “Your future under gun control.”  Citing objective data that guns are used for self-protection 2.5 million times per year, and that concealed handgun laws deter rape, murder and aggravated assault, our theme for the march is “Guns Save Lives.”


Look at Charlotte as a microcosm of the gun debate: On one side, a limited number of gun control advocates, supported by an eager media, use grant money from liberal foundations to form coalitions of marginally related groups.  To advance their agenda, they exaggerate juvenile gun deaths by counting gang members up to age nineteen as “children.”


The other side consists largely of unpaid grassroots volunteers who take time from their jobs to preserve the right to keep and bear arms.  Donations to GRNC, for example, generally come in $20 increments.  Even the NRA derives its influence not from the gun industry (with whom it often disagrees), but from nearly 3.6 million members who fax, call, and e-mail legislators.


The ostensible organizer of CCSGV’s anti-violence events, Herm Ziegler, maintains he doesn’t oppose the NRA: “We’re not interested in confrontation,” he says.  “We want to stop gun violence.  Who can object to stopping gun violence?”  To Ziegler, if you oppose the coalition you support bloodshed.


But if avoiding confrontation is Ziegler’s intent, he is hanging with the wrong crowd.  The Great Aunt Stella Center is the nexus of CCSGV events.  Its program director, the ever-vocal Jerry Klein, recently described the individual right to bear arms as a product of “the NRA’s decades of propagandizing.”  Beyond his hatchet job on the Second Amendment, Klein depicts his coalition as a “cross-section of the community,” listing participating local organizations and what he calls “others.”


Among the “others” Klein avoids mentioning is Handgun Control, Inc.  While HCI’s director, Sarah Brady, maintains she is “no threat to hunters and sportsmen,” in 1994 her organization pushed “Brady II,” a bill which would have banned a broad array of firearms and entitled the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to search the homes of gun collectors.  HCI softened its tone and began focusing on “gun violence” only after its more militant proposals—by Bill Clinton’s own admission—cost the Democratic Party control of Congress.


Joining HCI in the coalition news conference is North Carolinians Against Gun Violence (formerly North Carolinians For Gun Control).  As North Carolina’s primary anti-gun group, NCGV pays high-dollar lobbyists to push a bill in the General Assembly which would shut down most gun shows and register even black powder, muzzle-loading firearms (hardly criminals’ weapons of choice) through the National Instant Check System.  Under its language, even you might need a “gun show” permit to sell a firearm.  Upon application for the permit, your sheriff could inspect your home and records to “procure evidence of violations.”


Among CCSGV supporters, we also find the New York non-profit “Silent March” whose director, Ellen Freudenheim, will join other coalition members on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks.” On Saturday, CCSGV will collect shoes, representing gun victims, for Silent March to display nationally.


Apparently, Ms. Freudenheim is more inclined to trust you with dangerous implements if you take hallucinogens.  In July, PAX, yet another organization that Silent March sponsors, held a candle light vigil by distributing 200,000 candles to stoned and drunk revelers at Woodstock…who cheerfully used them to burn everything in sight.


At the NRA convention in Denver last year, anti-gun demonstrators grabbed the media spotlight.  This year, GRNC will counterbalance them with pro-gun events.  Would you like to wager how many North Carolinians will show up to support each?


Testing ideas in the public arena benefits us all.  Accordingly, I challenge Jerry Klein and Lisa Price, director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, to join me in a fact-based public dialogue.  To Mr. Klein, I offer “The Second Amendment: Individual or Collective Right?”  To Ms. Price, I offer “Children and Guns: Epidemic of Violence, or Pandemic of Propaganda?” 


Says Klein, “I see [the NRA convention] doing for the community what the ‘Angels in America’ flap did for the gay rights and arts funding issue…”  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But CCSGV has thrown down the gauntlet, and GRNC has picked it up.  Let the debate begin.


Information about the Gun Rights Solidarity March is available at or (919) 562-4137.