The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Moms Taking Action - Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 7/2/2018 at 12:42pm

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part story about the local chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.

On top of constructive conversation, local attorney Emily Walthall said she just wants some common sense gun reform.

As a member of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, Walthall sees the cracks in the sidewalk, and she believes some of the low-hanging fruits, so to speak, such as closing the background check loopholes and encouraging community members to lock up their guns, could help save lives, prevent grief and pave the way for a better America.

Walthall recently participated in a panel hosted by Project Empathy, a community focused discussion that exists to respect differences, promote inclusivity and encourage collaboration, innovation and problem solving.

Walthall said that Moms Demand Action was created after the Sandy Hook shooting, where 20 elementary school students were shot dead in 2012 in Newton, Conn.

“Our local Transylvania County group is one of 27 chapters in North Carolina,” she said. “Our members consist of gun owners like myself, Republicans and Democrats, veterans, gun violence survivors, men and women, parents and non-parents. I think we’re all united by a deep concern about the gun violence epidemic in the country. What we want are measured legal responses, as well as public health responses that are addressing gun access issues.”

Walthall said that of the 30,000 deaths by gun that occur every year, two thirds are suicides and the rest are homicides and unin-tentional shootings, which, typically, involve children who have gotten ahold of an unsecured firearm without being supervised.

She said different situations call for different responses.

For example, a toddler getting hold of an unsecured gun, or the risk of that, calls for a different response than a potential mass shooter or someone living in urban poverty who has been exposed to crime and violence their whole lives.

“We are not anti-gun, we are not anti-Second Amendment,” she said. “I am a lawyer. I am familiar with the Second Amendment and the case laws surrounding it. There is no conflict with protecting mine and your individual rights to gun access and things like closing our background check loopholes and having some rules surrounding where people can take loaded guns and some things dealing with red flag laws. We don’t have those in North Carolina, but they have been passed in nine or 10 states since the Parkland, Fla. shooting.”

Red flag laws are akin to temporary restraining orders that are in place in some states, where someone poses a threat.

With respect to the red flag law, the difference is a posed threat, not just a mass shooter, but also someone who expresses suicidal thoughts.

Five states currently have red flag laws: Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Proponents of red flag laws believe that if the state of Florida had red flag laws before the shooting, then Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz would have not been able to purchase the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle he used to kill 17 students and to wound 17 more.

Public records show that law enforcement came to his home 39 times over a period of seven years.

“Addressing access to a gun during that period is something we’d like to see passed here in North Carolina,” Walthall said. “It’s encouraging to see them passed in places like Florida and Vermont, where there is wide-spread bipartisan support. Our group has been focused since Sandy Hook and primarily at change at the state level, not the federal, because there has been so much gridlock in Congress. They couldn’t even agree to close our background check loopholes following Sandy Hook.

“For me, and for many people across the country, it was discouraging. An overwhelming number of people across the country think that if someone wants to buy a gun, there should be some questions asked.”

Walthall said she has read estimates there might be 300 million guns in the U.S., and she asks what citizens can do about that. She believes a place to start is to work with people who are gun owners, experts, law enforcement and a coalition of different people who don’t see eye to eye, and that community members need to have some public and community-based re-sponses so people are better informed.

“Particularly about safe gun storage,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have no intention of harming anyone. They want to protect themselves, or, like my husband and I, for example, we’re bird hunters.

“But regardless of the reason someone has a gun, I think we’ve got to do more as a community to educate and inform one another about how guns are stored. I remember in the last few years seeing a big billboard on U.S. 64 headed toward Hendersonville encouraging gun owners to lock up their guns. Now it’s been replaced with a billboard encouraging people to lock up their prescription medication, which is great too.”

Walthall said that having an argument on the Internet is not the way to approach the subject. Rather, she encourages passionate citizens to join the group.

There are chapters in Hendersonville, Asheville and Boone. Walthall is from a rural area outside Winston-Salem and a household that owned firearms. Independence and autonomy is important to everyone, she said, but it’s particularly important in more rural communities.

She said this month members of the group are going to SAFE, a domestic violence service, to talk about the warning signs and where they feel the law is working.

Later this year, the group wants to have Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris and Sheriff David Mahoney to talk with the group about things such as the background check system and how they, in terms of their community policing, identify people who are known to be unstable or potentially dangerous.

“Within our group we talk a lot about what works locally,” Walthall said. “I can cite statistics all the time. For every person shot and killed in the country, two people are shot and survive. Over 100,000 people are shot in this country annually, and, obviously, we’re grateful that they survive, but the physical damage and trauma is life-long. But we also talk a lot about our community and how to approach engagement.”

Walthall said Moms Demand Action doesn’t have a position on public versus private mental health care and what’s the right balance, but she said she personally feels that we need to be putting significant more resources into the mental health care system.

She said it’s also not just a question of psychiatric care being provided but also mentorship programs.

“I do know a bit about public health,” she said. “I worked in public health in New Orleans, not as a medical provider but as their communications manager. I had to talk a lot about our work there, but I do think, asking me about mental health care, we do not maintain that the only solution is some additional laws addressing access.

“There are a number of solutions needed. A lot of them don’t have anything to do with the laws, but what I get frustrated with, when we talk about mental health or other responses that don’t have anything to do with guns, we talk about that but we avoid or dismiss the elephant in the room, which is gun access in the first place.”

More from the interview will appear in Thursday’s paper.


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