By MIKE McCOMBS
U.S. Representative Joe Cunningham (D), a freshman Congressman representing South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, held a town hall meeting Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce.
Members of the public were invited to ask questions, share their priorities, and voice their concerns.
Here’s a summary of the first few questions, along with Cunningham’s responses:
What is your message to law-abiding, responsible gun owners? Are you going to take our guns?
You’re talking to a responsible gun owner here. I grew up around guns, I grew up with guns. I’ve got my concealed weapons permit. As far as my position, I’m not proposing confiscating any weapons. That’s not something that’s part of my platform, that’s not something I’d advance. Don’t confuse what you may see on CNN or other channels with how I stand. I think we can have common-sense gun safety legislation. I think background checks are something we ought to exercise. I think we can have common-sense gun safety measures and also respect the second amendment at the same time. And I don’t think that guns should be falling into the hands of criminals or those that are so mentally unstable that they should not have firearms.
The House of Representatives has already passed at least two pieces of legislation that respect the second amendment and also make an effort to make our communities safer. I think when children go to school, parents ought to rest easy about them going to school, or when they go to church or they go to a movie theater. And that’s what this is all about, making people feel safe and making sure we respect the second amendment, as well. Because, like you, Ralph, the high school I went to, I’d show up and be walking through the parking lot. My friends and colleagues would have their rifles hanging up in their trucks, unloaded, with the door locked. I grew up around responsible gun owners, and responsible gun owners should not be penalized.
In fact, when you look at the statistics here in America, over 80 percent of the people favor background checks. I think the fact that Sudafed is more difficult to purchase than firearms is an issue that we have in this country. I think that we can have common-sense gun safety measures. I think that we’ve already seen that. Two of those are already sitting over there waiting on (the Senate). We also passed a piece of legislation that would close the Charleston loophole. Ralph, you may be familiar with that. As it stands right now, if a background check is not complete within three days, a gun seller can sell that gun, regardless. It may come up later on that he would have failed that background check. And that’s named after Dylann Roof, who had a firearm sold to him because of this loophole and then took that firearm into Mother Emmanuel and murdered nine worshipers as their heads were bowed and as their eyes were closed. So that’s where I stand on this issue. We’re not proposing taking away anyone’s guns. I think that’s just a scare issue. Don’t confuse my stances with other people, particularly those who are running for president.
Yesterday there was a recognition by young people of the dangers of climate change. What is the best way for Congress to pay it forward or improve our situation?
That’s a great question. That’s an issue that’s front and center for so many people. We’re here in the Lowcountry and we see climate change, or at least the effects of it, every single day. We’re seeing flooding increase, we’re seeing the intensity of hurricanes increase. We’re seeing things that are highly alarming. Personally, I feel like we need to recognize the impact that humans are having on this and we need to figure out a way to change the course. The ways we can do that, it’s obviously a short-term and long-term game. One of the things we can do is get the funding to improve our infrastructure and make ourselves in America and the Lowcountry more resilient to flooding and to the effects of climate change.
But also in the long-term solution, we need to finally have the realization that we are having an impact on this and we need to make that pivot away from dirty energy resources. And I’m proud of what the Lowcountry has done. I feel like we’re leading on this issue, specifically Parris Island, which is a gem here in our district, and something we’re extremely proud of. Not only because we’re one of two installations in the entire country were we make enlisted Marines, but we’re the only installation in the entire country that makes female enlisted Marines. It’s a gem in our district and something we’re extremely proud of. On Parris Island, they actually have solar panels and they produce more energy than they consume. They actually export solar power. I feel like that is something to be commended. And I feel like that is the path forward. And we’re not going to get there overnight, And we’re not going to get there in the next five years. But we need to have that in mind, making that pivot from coal and fossil fuels and oil and making that toward clean renewables to clean fuels and solar and wind. And what we did last week in the House of Representatives was a testament to that. Because last week on the House floor, we passed the bill that I introduced, H.R. 1941, which would ban offshore drilling off the coast of South Carolina.
And that’s good because we don’t have to worry about sitting on the beach at Hilton Head and looking at oil rigs, and we also don’t have to worry about because there’s an oil spill we have birds and fish washing up on our shore covered in oil because there’s an oil spill. And we also recognize that the United States is now a net exporter of energy, and so why would we be opening up our shorelines to drill for more oil just so we can send more oil overseas to other countries. It just doesn’t make sense to me. So that was a step in not only protecting our shorelines, but it was a step toward saying this is not the future of energy, and we need to be looking toward the future and modernizing it so our children and grandchildren can have an environment down here in the Lowcountry just as beautiful as the one we enjoyed.
Joe Cunningham speaks during a town hall meeting Saturday morning at the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Bob Sofaly.