CHARLOTTE, NC (ABP) -- The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America co-sponsored a "peaceful alternative" to a National Rifle Association national convention that attracted an estimated 70,000 visitors to Charlotte, NC, May 14-16.
Along with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence
, the Charlotte-based BPFNA sponsored a forum titled "Valuing Our Communities: Working Together to End Gun Violence" May 15 across the street from the convention at St. Peter's Catholic Church.
"Jesus calls us to the work of nonviolence and we are about empowering people to have the skills to work that out right now, right where they are," said LeDayne Polaski, BPFNA program coordinator and event facilitator. "Even though we're an international organization, all peace work comes to the local level. This is to help people identify issues in their neighborhoods and use the assets they bring to create specific plans for action in their communities."
Attended by about 20 people, the forum was billed not as a "counter protest" but rather "a reminder that we must protect our communities from the wave of violence sweeping through the country." Local residents discussed their experiences with violence, heard from advocates who have created successful programs to prevent gun violence and formed plans for their own neighborhoods and their cities.
At the end, some of those attending walked across the street to stand in front of the Charlotte Civic Center carrying signs protesting "gun-show-loophole" laws that allow private individuals to sell guns at shows without doing background checks on the purchasers. The NRA did not allow gun sales at its meeting, because a state law prohibits carrying firearms inside the convention center.
Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin opened the convention with an appeal to NRA members to stand up for their Second Amendment rights.
"President Obama and his allies like [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi have been relatively quiet on the gun-control front -- not because they don't want to limit your rights but because they're afraid of the political consequences," Palin said. "Don't doubt for a minute that if they thought they could get away with it they would ban guns and ammunition and gut the Second Amendment."
Other headline speakers included actor Chuck Norris, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Lt. Col. Oliver North and country music star Charlie Daniels.
Tourism officials said the weekend event was the largest conference ever held in Charlotte, surpassing the 2003 National Baptist Convention meeting by about 20,000 people.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.