Thetyka Robinson Sits Down With Gun Sense SC President Meghan Alexander
(left to right) Thetyka O. Robinson interviewing Gun Sense SC President Meghan Alexander
Thetyka Robinson sat down with Meghan Alexander, President of Gun Sense SC, at her home to learn more about the organization that is taking on the taboo topic of gun violence and bridging differences through forming a unified voice to create change, starting with their first community event, Stand-Up Sunday SC held on Sunday, January 31st.
At first glance, one might see Meghan’s 5’7” petite frame as a sweet all American girl with a beautiful smile and warm presence, she is like the girl next door, representing Charleston so perfectly. Surely, this is not the heart behind this huge initiative to eradicate senseless deaths committed by guns in South Carolina. On the contrary, Meghan not only has a passion for justice, but a force to be reckoned with, and with over 20 years of experience in the journalism, marketing and branding industry in New York City and Charleston, she’s no stranger to capturing the issues to create an engaging message. This is second nature for her, possibly even her calling that she wears well, all while juggling being a wife to a supportive husband and mother to two beautiful children.
TR: Tell me about Gun Sense SC, how was it birthed?
MA: The journey unfortunately started the morning of June 18th when my husband woke me up early to tell me about the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, the previous night. I just remember standing there stunned at the horror of how it happened and where it happened. He also knew how it would affect me because it brought back memories of a friend from college that lost a child at Sandy Hook. Just knowing what would happen to the community and how it happened while people were praying, was just stunning to me. I thought about my friend and all those beautiful people, especially in the Holy City, at one of the tenderest places in our city. I was devastated and knew I was committed to do something, but unsure as to what it was going to be at that point. Then I started doing research about what was possible in Charleston and once I realized how simple (not easy) it could be to make a tremendous difference, I wrote an email to friends asking for their help. I came from a family of gun owners who shot trap and skeet and friends who are hunters. I kept that in mind when I approached it. I realized this is South Carolina, and the political power of raising our voices throughout the state would make the difference. The response I received was immediate and enthusiastic. Most people responded with “if you do something, we will help.” We held our first meeting on July 1st with about 50 people in attendance and since then, it’s just kind of taken off. We’ve had some amazing people join. My biggest inspiration came from the mothers at Ashley Hall School, who pushed through a legislation bill in 80 days due to a terrible incident that happened on their campus, where a gun almost went off. Luckily no one was killed, but what they did was phenomenal. It showed me that when citizens get involved, legislatures listen.
TR: What is Gun Sense SC’s vision and purpose?
MA: We have three main areas of focus:
1) Close loopholes relating to gun show and online sales. The Brady Bill (which prevents felons, domestic abusers and people with a criminal history of mental illness from buying a gun) was passed in 1994 - and, of course, online sales and gunshot sales didn't really exist... Now they are a huge business, so today 40% of sales happen without any background check. We have A TREMENDOUS amount of data supporting the fact that just passing this one bill ("Expanded" Brady Background Check") would have a huge impact on the number of gun deaths in SC (about 700 annually, including suicides).
2) Mandate that no guns be sold until background checks are completed. Also, known now as the "Charleston Loophole" - right now, if there's not response to a background check (94% of the time, there's a response in under 2 minutes!), the gun dealer can sell a gun after 3 days. This is how Dylan Roof was able to purchase a gun. We want to extend that waiting period, to allow the government more time to respond.
3) Prosecute illegal or “bad apple” gun dealers. 90% of guns used in crimes are supplied by 5% of the dealers. All gun dealers should have to follow the same laws. (ATF Bureau, Commerce in Firearms, 2000) This is something we're working with local law enforcement to address.??More than 700 people died from gun violence last year, alone. Our goal is to cut that number in half by next year. We have gun owners and non-gun owners, democrats and republicans, doctors and lawyers, teachers and activist. All in one room, meeting once a month; they inspire me to hold on for the ride.
TR: What is your biggest challenge?
MA: Part of our biggest challenge is the education process. A lot people do not know the existing Brady Bill Law. It makes you ask questions like, what is it missing? How does it work? How is it not working? How is it making a big difference? However, people are responding. It’s the big genesis, we were absolutely galvanized by the shooting of the 12 people who were victimized that day, but we are spurred on by the shootings that keep happening and the gun violence that a lot of people see within their communities every day.
TR: I think is amazing that you all were able to bring together such diverse people because as we know, a bullet in a gun does not aim for a respected person, nor does it care who you are. Have you experienced any fear from anyone who does not want to be involved or have you seen them realize how their courage is helping to make a difference?
MA: All of the above actually; it’s hard to talk about guns. Some say, “I see this every day. Please do something about it.” Others have said, “Please don’t take away my ability to protect my family.” Both sides come from a place of love and fear. So, for some, they came to it because they just wanted to get something done. For others it was a little bit of a process to make sure it was not impinging on their second amendment rights.
TR: Speaking of diverse audiences, Stand-Up Sunday SC was this Sunday, January 31. Can you tell me about the purpose of the event and how congregations or individuals may get involved moving forward?
MA: We have many different ways people can get involved Gun Sense SC and Stand-Up Sunday SC. Gun Sense SC meets monthly on the second Tuesday’s of every month from 5:30-6:30 p.m., keeping our meetings to one hour, as to respect everyone’s time. We honestly get a lot done. Our committees are focused and work hard. As you mentioned, Stand-Up Sunday SC or Stand-Up Sabbath, was this past Sunday and we had over 1300 congregations participating across the state, standing up against gun violence. The participating congregations honored the nine who were killed on June 17th, as well as talked about gun violence and how their own communities can get involved in making a difference. They also nominated nine people to travel to Columbia when we need them to talk to legislatures. So if your church was not involved, you can still get involved by visiting our website at www.gunsensesc.org or
TR: What type of congregations were involved?
MA: We had over 16 denominations participating in the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Reformed Episcopalians, Jewish, Lutherans, AME’s, Unitarians, United Church of Christ, Russian Orthodox, Unity churches, Quakers, Buddhists, Non-Denominational churches. There was one church in Columbia who hired an artist to create a sculpture with a cross of guns. People walked under this cross of guns on the way in, which is this despairing image and symbol and on the way out saw a cross with all these words written by young children like hope and love. So, the idea is that you walk in with this feeling of despair, but you leave with the feeling of hope, opportunity and promise. A lot of the congregations also had guest speakers and congregants who spoke about their own personal experience with gun violence and signed letters to their legislatures on the way out.
TR: Did Stand-Up Sunday SC meet your expectations?
MA: Yes, it more than exceeded our expectations! Several local and statewide media outlets covered the event before, during and after. We also received love from media in Washington, Texas, Washington, DC, California, Georgia, Virginia, Connecticut, among many others! Numerous congregations reported in on how their members stood up in numbers to volunteer to go to Columbia when needed. Our social media platforms were inundated with pictures and activities from across the state. It was amazing! This all feels like a culmination...and yet just a beginning!
TR: As the Founder and President of Gun Sense SC, what would you like see come out of all of this by the end of this year?
MA: I’d like to see exponentially more South Carolinians engaged. Guns have become taboo and I would love to see people having the difficult conversations, finding common ground, and speaking to legislatures. Engaging party lines. By coming together, we can cut the number of gun deaths by half. I’d just like to see people getting together and be a part of the political process.