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Up in arms about firearms

Local governments feel pressure to curb gun violence

By Alex Sampson - Echo A&E editor
On January 24, 2013

With the gun control debate intensifying, Durham is feeling pressure from both the national and local levels.

Durham and surrounding areas have gained a reputation for excessive violence.

According to the Durham Police Department, there were at least 864 gun related crimes in 2012 with 21 homicides.

Last Monday, Mayor Bill Bell - a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns - expressed a need for congressional action on tougher gun laws.

In the following days, President Obama signed 23 executive orders on gun control that echoed Bell's sentiments.

Obama's executive order includes measures like national background checks, an increase in law enforcement and tougher punishment for gun trafficking.

But it's proposed legislation that has gun-rights advocates most heated, specifically legislation that would ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Gun-rights advocates argued that the ban is an infringement on their right to bear arms and would increase crime.

Brett Webb-Mitchell, visiting associate professor of Language and Literature at N. C. Central University, said civilians don't need those types of weapons.

"Semi-automatic rifles with high capacity bullets and armor vests are clearly a threat to human beings," said Webb-Mitchell.

He said he understands the importance of the Second Amendment, but feels it's time to have a discussion about it.

As for the fear of increasing criminal activity, he said that's what law enforcement and the military are for.

But since support for gun control has grown, many gun-advocates have accused the government of tyranny.

Some see the Second Amendment as protection from an overzealous and corrupt U.S. government.

Without the means of defending themselves, these people worry the government could abuse its power.

But Gail Neely, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said that train of thought is illogical.

"The notion that the Second Amendment was implemented to help the people rise against the government is ludicrous," said Neely.

Neely pointed out the need for militias at the time the amendment was ratified. With no standing army, regular gun owners were called upon to protect the nation from foreign enemies.

Neely said talk of a tyrannical government is not about the Second Amendment but is a ploy by NRA lobbyists and extremists to bring in more money from extremists.

While the NRA receives much of its money from member fees, the organization also benefits greatly from gun and ammunition manufacturers.

According to reports from American research company IBIS World, the gun industry is valued at $12 billion.

Neely said increasing fear among the public is a great way to ensure gun sales.

While she hopes something will be done about the issue, Neely said it shouldn't have taken so much violence to spur action.

"It just sickens me that this is what it takes to have a sensible, open dialogue," said Neely, referring to the Sandy Hook massacre in  which 20 children and six adults where shot to death.

In the past year, over a dozen places were targeted by mass shooters including a Sikh temple, a movie theater, a shopping mall and a spa.

Mitchell said the shootings made him question the nation's level of violence compared to other countries. He said the senseless violence is not only embedded into our society but is a cause of the changing times.

"People are afraid of the changes occurring," said Mitchell. "We have a black president, marriage equality and women are gaining more rights."

Mitchell said that as a Caucasian male it may seem strange for him to say it, but the fact that most mass shooters and presidential assassins were heterosexual, white men is not a coincidence.

"White males are losing their place," said Mitchell.

Mitchell said he backs Obama's decision to strengthen gun laws, and especially his attention to health and counseling services. The one thing he's concerned about, however, is the president's plan to arm resource officers.

Mitchell said the mandate could cause more harm than good. As a kid, Mitchell said he worried about passing tests, getting picked on in gym and if it was going to rain or not.

He said the one thing he never worried about was whether he was going to be shot.

"The loss of innocence, that's my main concern," said Mitchell.

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