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Opinion: We Can Reduce Gun Violence in Mecklenburg County

Cade Lee founded the UNC Charlotte chapter of March For Our Lives and is running for Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners in District 3. He is not on staff at Queen City Nerve, but wrote us this open letter about local gun violence. 

As we near the five-month anniversary of the UNC Charlotte shooting that took the lives of two students on campus on April 30, we’re reminded that action has still not been taken on a local level to reduce gun violence in Mecklenburg County.

On May 7, just one week after the shooting county commissioners Susan Harden and Trevor Fuller introduced a resolution to honor April 30 as a day of remembrance in Mecklenburg County to pay tribute to Riley Howell and Reed Parlier, the two students lost to senseless gun violence. While this was an appreciated and respected resolution, it was just that: a resolution. Words on paper to memorialize a day that we all are going to remember already.

The April 30 UNC Charlotte shooting took place in the Kennedy building on campus. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

At the May 7 meeting, District 3 County Commissioner and Chairman George Dunlap said, “I wanted to put people on notice that once we’re done with the budget process, this discussion [of gun violence prevention] will take place. Because we really are concerned and it’s time for us to do something.”

It’s been nearly five months, and the Board of County Commissioners has done nothing. The budget process has been completed for months. While the County Commissioners enjoyed a partial summer hiatus and vacationed in various destinations, we were feeling the effects of their inadequacy.

Charlotte alone has now surpassed 74 homicides, with all but a few being gun-related deaths. No matter the hat I’m wearing on any given day — from gun reform advocate to student to candidate for county commissioner — I continuously get the question, “What can local government actually do to prevent gun violence?” That’s the question that our local elected officials refuse to answer.

Cade Lee

While it’s true that municipalities cannot regulate who can get a firearm, which businesses can sell them or what types of weapons and accessories individuals can purchase, there are still impactful ways in which we can act. First, Mecklenburg County could launch a voluntary buyback program to collect firearms from willing gun owners. Whether it’s an AR-15 or a handgun, having fewer guns on the streets has the potential to save lives.

Second, the Board of County Commissioners (as well as city/town councils and the school board) can learn from organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, which have developed a nonpartisan educational program called BeSMART that teaches the need to legitimize and fully comprehend the danger that guns pose to our society. The program is all about respecting the danger of firearms and normalizing social emphasis on gun safety to better protect our kids.

Third, the Board of County Commissioners can partner with local gun dealers to provide car safes and trigger lock mechanisms with new pistol permit purchases for free or at discounted prices to ensure proper safe storage of firearms. These are just a few of the ways the County Commissioners can act to reduce gun violence in Mecklenburg County. But it seems this is not a priority for them.

We were told about — no, promised — directed action from the Board of County Commissioners in finding ways to reduce gun violence in our county. It’s been nearly five months, so what have they been doing this whole time? Well, there was the corrupt budget process, in which Chairman Dunlap intentionally broke, or at least circumvented, the North Carolina Open Meetings Law in order to pass a budget that the majority of his fellow commissioners had prior knowledge of.

The most recent waste of taxpayer time and money is the extreme push for a quarter-cent sales tax referendum that will be on the ballot in November. The terms that seven of nine commissioners voted to approve for this referendum would give 45% of the estimated $50 million in new revenue — or about $22.5 million — to a restructured Arts and Science Council for them to dole out to local organizations and artists. After that, an estimated $17 million would go to greenway-related costs, $8 million to education, and $2.5 million to fund ‘the arts’ in surrounding towns.

My biggest takeaways from this initiative: $22.5 million would go to a single organization that has arguably left many local artists behind, while not funding the reinstatement of the arts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Notice that out of $50 million in revenue, no funding would go to gun violence prevention initiatives in Mecklenburg County. Commissioners didn’t put any funding for gun violence prevention in the annual budget, and now they won’t put any funding for it in a sales tax referendum. Time and again, the Board of County Commissioners displays that the safety and security of Mecklenburg citizens is not a top priority.

To make matters worse, County Manager Dena Diorio has proposed a boost in security on county premises at an up-front capital cost of $6 million, with operational costs of $6.3 million. A total of $12.3 million to get this started in its first year, and yet we supposedly have no money or resources to look into reducing gun violence in Mecklenburg County. The Board of County Commissioners is failing us. What do we do? Turn up the heat and demand they take action. If they don’t, they’re all up for reelection next year.

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