Just days following the nation’s latest mass shooting, community leaders and citizens gathered in the basement of Emanuel AME Church Monday to take a stand against gun violence.

Members of Gun Sense SC, a grassroots nonprofit committed to reducing gun-related deaths in South Carolina, announced a statewide initiative to support legislation for more comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases.

“Let us be clear. We do not want to infringe on law-abiding citizens’ rights to own a gun, but we must prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands,” said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who called on all citizens to support the initiative on behalf of the nine individuals who lost their lives at Mother Emanuel this summer and “the nine killed by guns in our state every five days.”

In addition to a push for new state legislation to prohibit the sale of firearms until a background check is completed and close loopholes related to the sale of firearms at gun shows and online, Gun Sense SC also supports the Thompson-King Bill, which would expand the current federal background check system to require comprehensive checks on all commercial gun sales, including those made at gun shows, through classified ads, and online.

Charleston Chief of Police Greg Mullen outlined four specific issues related to reducing gun violence that he feels are vital to achieving a safer community. In addition to expanded background checks, Mullen called for a more aggressive effort to prosecute illegal gun owners, stricter penalties for repeat offenders, and the implementation of the public health model in studying and identifying the root causes of gun violence.

“The gun violence public health epidemic and crisis continues. It’s an epidemic because it has a defined cause — guns — as opposed to invisible particles, germs,” said Dr. Robert Ball, infectious disease consultant, epidemiologist, and adjunct professor of public health at the College of Charleston. “As such, we can control and prevent the many causes, perhaps not all, but the many causes of gun violence, and many of the actions and steps of Gun Sense South Carolina, of which I am an early member, are in a positive direction.”

Organizers also announced “Stand-Up Sunday” and “Stand-up Sabbath,” events endorsed by the S.C. Christian Action Council and scheduled for the weekend of Jan. 31, 2016. With 1,100 churches already on board, faith leaders across the state will discuss gun violence, encourage congregants to write legislators, and ask church members across the state to travel to Columbia to encourage the passing of gun legislation.

“I’m here today because South Carolina needs to have a mainstream conversation and action among public officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, victims, and families of victims, and all people of good will on how to enhance gun safety, encourage responsible gun ownership, and keep guns out of the hands of folks who we know should not have them,” said Mayor-elect John Tecklenburg. “This must not be a conversation about partisan politics and posturing. It does need to be about finding the common ground that can lead to sensible policies and practices that can make South Carolina safer and more secure for our citizens where they live, work, worship, and raise a family.”

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