By Derek Lacey, Times-News Staff Writer

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Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left at least 59 dead and 527 wounded, weighed heavily on the monthly Progressive Organized Women rally Tuesday night.

Around 80 people flocked to the Historic Courthouse to hear local candidates speak on pressing issues.

Messages like “You want to regulate bathrooms and my body, but not guns?,” “When will we learn?,” and “Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” joined signs calling for universal health care, support for DACA and higher wages.

Robert Miles and Diane Swift, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Jayne Jennings of POW called for reform to curb gun violence, specifically with assault rifles, suppressors and automatic weapons.

So far, there have been 273 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, close to one per day, Jennings said.

“I do not oppose guns; I grew up with guns,” she said. “I have a problem with assault weapons. I have a problem with silencers. I have a problem with whatever this thing is this man put on his semiautomatic to make it automatic.”

After a moment of silence, Bob Miles asked how many in the crowd had been at POW rallies for other moments of silence following mass shootings.

“Moments of silence are necessary and important, but they’re not enough,” he said.

In 2015, more than 36,000 people were killed by guns in the U.S., 22,000 of those suicides and almost 13,000 homicides, Miles said.

“Mass shootings get our attention, they motivate us, they anger us, but it’s the day-in and day-out people who are killed by guns,” he said. “We need to be able to have conversations about how to reduce that.”

They’ve contacted U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows about the need for legislation to reduce gun violence, but Miles said Meadows consistently answers that he’s a supporter of the Second Amendment.

“That is no longer satisfactory,” Miles said. “All of our rights are balanced by the rights of other people, and we need to get that message across.”

They shared information about a planned candlelight vigil Friday evening at 7 at the Historic Courthouse, asking people to gather to remember the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.

Four local candidates also addressed the crowd, including Mills River Town Council candidate Brian Caskey, N.C. House District 113 candidate Sam Edney, N.C. Senate District 48 candidate Norm Bossert and Congressional candidate Scott Donaldson.

Norm Bossert

Bossert, a retired principal, spoke about the state legislature’s new plan to add more kindergarten through third-grade teachers. He said it’s a wonderful bill, but what’s really needed is an increase in per-pupil spending in the state.

Despite legislators like N.C. Rep. Chuck Edwards saying that the state is spending more on education than ever before, Bossert contends it’s actually $500 less than per-pupil spending levels in 2008.

“That comes right out of our teachers’ pockets,” he said. “In my school, my teachers were digging into their pockets all the time” to pay for everything from pencils and backpacks to food for students.

He urged people to get involved and volunteer in campaigns of local candidates they believe in. The legislature “is stepping on all of us,” he said. “And they’ve stepped on my last nerve.”

Scott Donaldson

Donaldson, a local urological surgeon, focused his comments on health care in the U.S., saying the problem is access, leading to people showing up months after health problems surface.

“What we want to do is bring people in earlier, get them to come through what I call the front door of the medical community, that’s my office door,” he said. “The back door is the emergency room.”

The barrier to access is as simple as a $100 medical bill, he said, which keeps many from seeking help.

People who see health care as a right, instead of a commodity like a house or car, should be greatly disturbed by Mission Health’s pending disconnect from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s network, Donaldson said. “I believe health care is a right; it’s part of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“And if you don’t believe it’s a right, then why don’t you come on down to the emergency room and you deny people care,” he continued. “Don’t sit in your house and get on your social media and say ‘No, no, no, you have to pay for everything.’”

He noted that Mission will treat anyone who comes into the emergency room with an emergency — “oh, but they’re going to give you a bill. Kid yourself not.”

Donaldson criticized Meadows’ recent statement at a town hall meeting that whenever government gets involved in health care, there’s a problem. Looking at the five richest civilized countries in Europe and comparing simple measurements like length of life and health care efficiency, “oh, we’re the worst,” he said.

There’s about $3.5 trillion in the country’s health care industry, he said, “so please don’t tell me there’s not enough money in that $3.5 trillion to provide health care for the citizens of this country; I just think it’s all in the wrong pockets. It’s in the pockets of the profiteers, it’s in the pockets of the insurance companies.”

Switching to issues of gun legislation, he told of his first encounter with gun violence as a doctor years ago. He was woken at 2 a.m. to evaluate whether a young man in custody was well enough to go to jail after the man had just shot and killed his best friend in a fit of rage.

“America was great before you could have an automatic weapon. Sorry,” Donaldson said. “You don’t need an automatic weapon to shoot a deer. It’s just not that complex.”

What Meadows misses about the Second Amendment, he said, is the first part, where it references a “well-regulated militia.”

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