RALEIGH — A group of gun-rights activists rallied Tuesday in support of making it legal for North Carolina's school principals and teachers to carry concealed firearms into the classroom.
About 300 people showed up outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh to voice their support for new state laws broadening access to guns and resisting proposed federal restrictions on what several called their God-given right to bear arms.
Many carried empty gun holsters to the event organized by the pro-gun Grass Roots North Carolina to protest the prohibition of firearms on state property. The crowd hoisted flags and signs featuring such slogans as "Guns Save Lives," as well as a placard featuring a doctored photo of President Barack Obama in a Nazi SS uniform.
Among the speakers was N.C. Rep. Larry G. Pittman, R-Cabarrus, who said he intends to introduce legislation for an amendment to the N.C. Constitution asserting the state's right to ignore any federal restrictions on gun access or ownership. The proposed amendment would also guarantee the right of citizens to "personally resist" any effort to confiscate their weapons.
"The Second Amendment does not give you the right to keep and bear arms. It only acknowledges that God gave you that right," Pittman said, eliciting applause and cheers from the crowd. "As far as I'm concerned, if you have no intention of harming an innocent person, it's nobody's business, especially the government's, what guns you have or how many or when, where and how you carry them."
Gun issues are getting attention as Obama and others are promoting gun-control legislation in Congress after the Connecticut school shootings in which 20 children and 6 adults were killed by a man with a semi-automatic rifle.
In addition to his proposed amendment, Pittman said he intends to introduce a bill allowing teachers with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns on campus.
"We were all touched and deeply shaken by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary," Pittman said. "If that brave principal, who gave her life to try to stop what was going on, had had a gun and taken good aim, she could have taken him out without giving up her life."
With Republicans in control of both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion for the first time in more than a century, gun-rights advocates see an opportunity to pass new laws loosening restrictions on firearms.
Bills introduced during the first week of the General Assembly's work session include measures to allow concealed weapons in restaurants and restrict the public's access to the names of people issued permits to carry them.
A measure from N.C. Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, would let North Carolina public schools create "safety marshals" who would know how to use a gun during a campus crisis.
N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said last week he doesn't like the idea of arming teachers as a solution to preventing gun violence in public schools. He does want input from law enforcement to say how schools can be better secured and does envision lawmakers passing laws that toughen prison terms for people who commit crimes with a gun.
N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said North Carolina has a long history of respect for and an understanding of the responsible ownership of guns.
"I don't think you will see this General Assembly move backward on this issue," Berger said.
Josette Chmiel of Durham, who helped organize Tuesday's rally, said numerous teachers had contacted Grass Roots North Carolina to support carrying concealed weapons in the classroom. Asked if there were any educators in the crowd at the legislature, however, she said she wasn't aware of any.
N.C. Association of Educators president Rodney Ellis said the state's largest teacher's group is opposed to any legislation bringing guns into the classroom. Only trained law enforcement officers should be allowed to be armed on school campuses, Ellis said.
"Teachers have enough on their hands right now, they don't have an extra hand for hand guns," Ellis said. "Teachers need to come to school armed with the skills, training and passion to provide a quality education for every student in North Carolina."