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‘Vote them out’: UNC students rail against NC lawmakers as they demand stricter gun laws

Students from UNC-Chapel Hill advocating for stricter gun safety laws rallied in front of the state legislature on Tuesday and demanded that lawmakers take more action to address gun violence, or risk being voted out of office.

The group of students spent the entire day at the Legislative Building, holding a press conference with Democratic lawmakers in the morning and rallying on Bicentennial Plaza a few hours later.

Many of them said the fatal shooting and lockdown on UNC’s campus last month wasn’t the first or second time they had gone through an experience like that, and that lawmakers had failed to address the issue of gun violence for too long.

“Why does this keep happening? We have had shooting after shooting after shooting for decades,” said Luke Diasio, an activist with UNC’s chapter of March For Our Lives. “For too long, we have been so blinded by gun rights that we have neglected our own human rights.”

“The right to live in safe communities, the right to not fear for our lives in our schools,” Diasio continued. “We’ve tried doing nothing and it doesn’t work. It continues to not work.”

Tens of thousands of UNC students, faculty and staff sheltered in place on campus for more than three hours on Aug. 28, while police searched for an armed gunman. Authorities later reported that Zijie Yan, a physics professor, had been shot and killed. They arrested and charged one of his Ph.D students, 34-year-old Tailei Qi, with his death.

Students escorted out

On Tuesday afternoon, students packed into the House gallery and loudly chanted “vote them out” several times, before being escorted outside by General Assembly police.

As the students were walking out, House Speaker Tim Moore remarked, “This isn’t a pep rally. This is the House of Representatives.”

UNC freshmen Danielle Kennedy, left, and Amy Hyde attend a protest against gun violence sponsored by March for Our Lives UNC-CH outside the NC Legislative building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.
UNC freshmen Danielle Kennedy, left, and Amy Hyde attend a protest against gun violence sponsored by March for Our Lives UNC-CH outside the NC Legislative building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.

The student activists, who were joined at the press conference and rally by a handful of Democrats, criticized the General Assembly’s GOP leaders for not allowing several Democratic-proposed gun safety measures over the years to be heard in committees or put up for votes.

After the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year, Democrats made another push for gun safety legislation, calling on Republicans to give their bill to create a red flag law in North Carolina a committee hearing. Red flag laws allow a court to temporarily take guns away from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The GOP-controlled legislature, meanwhile, took advantage of recently secured supermajorities in both chambers to pass major gun-rights legislation in March that eliminated the state’s permit requirement for buying handguns that had been in place for more than a century.

Republicans currently control 72 seats in the House and 30 seats in the Senate, having picked up seats in last year’s election.

UNC freshman Dzidzielia Guerrero attends a protest against gun violence sponsored by March for Our Lives UNC-CH outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.
UNC freshman Dzidzielia Guerrero attends a protest against gun violence sponsored by March for Our Lives UNC-CH outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.