“It could have been us.”
For Don Flowers, the shootings of the nine parishoners of Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, hit all too close to home.
“It was at a Bible study, something that happens here every day,” said Flowers, who is the minister of Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island. “I think that that is what shocked us out of this idea that we could sit back and let other people deal with this.”
It was after the Emanuel shooting that Flowers, who has two daughters who graduated from Wando, became an active figure on the issue of gun violence and began taking steps to involve his congregation in addressing this issue.
“After the Mother Emanuel shooting, I had done a sermon basically talking about how we had to address the issue of gun violence in our state,” Flowers said.
Then he became aware of an open forum on gun violence and possible legislature to combat the problem. Soon he was introduced to the organization GunSenseSC and its founder, Meghan Alexander.
Alexander’s interest in preventing gun violence first began after a friend’s child was murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. After the Emanuel shooting, she took action.
“I decided I wanted to do something, but I didn’t really know what that looked like,” Alexander said in a telephone interview. “So I started researching what was possible in terms of legislation and what really works to decrease gun violence and I started reaching out to people.”
Alexander comes from a gun-owning and hunting family herself, and was able to reach a bipartisan network of gun owners and non-gun owners alike.
“It was a whole slew of people,” she said. “I provided them with some information and basically asked ‘If I were to do something, would you support me?’ I got a huge response, and people said ‘Yes, we’ll support you.'”
The first meeting was held on July 1, only a few weeks after the Emanuel shooting. Since then, GunSenseSC has gained significant attention and a diverse group of supporters.
“We’ve been working through what’s possible in South Carolina and what can actually make a difference,” Alexander said. “It took us a while, but we’ve outlined our platform and how we want to go about it. In the end, we’re a non-partisan, grassroots group of South Carolinians who are reaching out to educate and raise awareness and support legislation that would dramatically reduce the amount of people dying every day.”
This platform proposes to close gun show loopholes, eliminate the “waiting period” loophole for background checks and prosecute “bad apple” or illegal gun dealers.
“I think the thing is that the overwhelming majority of Democrats, Republicans and gun owners are supportive of everything that Gun Sense South Carolina is proposing,” Flowers said.
Flowers, an advocate for a variety of social issues, encourages action not only on behalf of a religion, political party or organization, but as a human being.
“This is a moral issue,” Flowers said. “My sermon on the [January] 31st was on the 10 Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ It’s one thing for us to say, ‘As long as I’m not pulling the trigger, I’m not guilty,’ but when we stand back and allow these loopholes [to exist] and allow people to walk through them and buy weapons that are designed totally and completely to kill people…we are complacent to this.
“Especially in South Carolina, and especially in the Charleston area, we’re so polite,” Flowers continued. “We don’t want to offend anybody and we want to be very mannerly and say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am.’ And we’ve sort of said ‘Well, if you want to buy an AK-47, well you go ahead, sweetheart! Bless your heart!’ We do this without asking the question. The moral question. Why?”
The question of “why?” plays an enormously big part in the discussion of gun control. Why are there loopholes in existing legislature? Why should people be able to buy military grade weapons? But this question plays a role in both sides of the argument, and on the counterargument: why should there be more gun control? Will this violate the Second Amendment?
“What we want to do in terms of legislature doesn’t touch the Second Amendment,” Alexander said. “We already have a federal law on the book that says there are certain people who we restrict [from buying a gun]: felons, domestic abusers and people with a criminal history of mental illnesses. This legislation merely applies this to online sales and sales at gun shows, so this isn’t a change in the process for a law abiding citizen to buy a gun.”
“Since when did the Second Amendment trump anything else?” Flowers said. “Since when did the right to carry a gun trump Reverend [Clementa] Pinckney’s right to life? There is nothing in this legislation that violates the Second Amendment.”
GunSenseSC has been gaining momentum among a wide group of support, and Alexander looks to work with South Carolina legislators to put their proposed platform onto paper.
“The next steps involve working with legislators to form bipartisan coalitions,” Alexander said. “The problem with the issue is that it’s become sort of a partisan battle ground. You have two different sides that are sort of saying the same thing over and over again, and when that happens nothing progresses. So really, the next steps are bringing people to Columbia to communicate directly with legislators to make a statement and forming a coalition that really wants to work on a background check bill.
“And really, just educating people about the specifics,” Alexander continued. “I think most people don’t understand on a baseline level what a background check is, how it functions…it’s a one page form that you fill out, and on average it takes about 90 seconds to finish it. A lot of what we need to do is disseminate information and talk to people about what’s possible in South Carolina.”
The strength of GunSenseSC lies in its diverse support, which includes that of younger generations, even people who might not be old enough to vote.
“Coming to meetings and becoming a volunteer is a great way to get involved,” Alexander said. “But also, just engaging people in the conversation and educating yourself enough that you can have a conversation with someone who wants to talk about it. That’s kind of how our legislative system works.”
Social media and the use of technology are also effective ways that awareness can be spread for this issue and movement, Flowers said, adding, “Never underestimate the influence that you and your classmates have.”