‘I’m not apologizing’: Congressman defends decision to show gun during meeting
Since a congressman and a loaded gun across the table from her put Lori Freeman at the center of a political firestorm, she's heard plenty. But what she read from U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman himself about her group has Freeman bothered most.
"We are not a radical group," Freeman said of a local chapter of a national organization called Moms Demand Action.
"We are a non-partisan group," Freeman said. "We support the Second Amendment. Our group includes gun owners. We don't want to take people's guns away."
Her group, she said, has a different aim.
"We want common sense gun legislation that will keep us safer," Freeman said.
On April 6, Norman placed a loaded gun on the table where he and constituents were meeting at Rock Hill diner. Since then, a wide range of reaction, including both criticism and support, has been published online, over both Norman's displaying the weapon and his stance on gun control measures.
Norman, a Rock Hill Republican, took to social media the day after the incident, offering an explanation what he said said happened. At an event Monday afternoon at an Indian Land pharmacy, Norman reiterated what he'd posted. He said reaction to the gun incident was "political."
"I did not break the law," he said. "I did not wave it. I did not brandish it. I didn't point it at anyone."
He didn't have any regrets involving the incident with the gun.
"I did it to prove a point," Norman said. "Yes, it was the right thing to do."
In the Facebook post on his Rep. Ralph Norman page, Norman called the group Mothers Demand Action, which had four members present who engaged Norman in a conversation on gun control at the diner, a "group with a radical agenda, funded by out-of-state groups, and hell bent on repealing the Second Amendment and banning guns."
Freeman, who moved to the Fort Mill area two years ago, said Norman "completely miss-characterized our group."
All four members present at the Rock Hill meet-and-greet live in Norman's district, she said. They are moms. Some are teachers.
Members had a respectful conversation, Freeman said, with another conceal carry holder and Norman at the event before Norman placed the gun on the table.
Freeman said some online characterizations of what happened, notably that Norman may have "brandished" the gun or pointed it at anyone, aren't true.
"He wasn't brandishing the gun, but I didn't think in South Carolina you were able to point and present a gun," she said.
Norman's post states that "at no point" did anyone at the meeting say he or she felt threatened. No one left early.
The group, Norman wrote, "continued with our discussion, laughed, smiled, shook hands and snapped pictures together."
Freeman agrees that no one spoke up when Norman put the gun on the table.
"We were too surprised to say something," she said.
Freeman does say she was "very mad" when it happened.
Some members of her group have faced traumatic situations involving guns, she said. A security or law enforcement officer was with Norman, she said, and Freeman expected that person to do or say something about the displayed gun.
Freeman said she was uncomfortable with the gun in front of her.
"At that moment, I had a physical reaction," she said.
Norman asked constituents if they felt safer with the gun there.
"During our discussion," Norman wrote in his Facebook post, "I safely placed my gun on the table, pointed away from people, and made the point: 'Guns don't shoot people. People use guns to shoot people. I am tired of blame being placed on the police, NRA, and guns themselves.'"
On Monday morning, Freeman said her feelings about what happened haven't changed. And, she said, it didn't in that moment make her feel safer.
"Any one of us could have reached out and grabbed that gun," she said.
Freeman said she did not believe leaving was an option. One member was sandwiched in a booth, between two other guests, and couldn't easily have walked out had she wanted to, and other members weren't going to leave her there, Freeman said.
"Even in hindsight, I'm proud of the way we handled ourselves," Freeman said.
Another Fort Mill mom, Veronica Doyle, agreed with Freeman's version of the events. Doyle said Norman took out the gun, placed it down and put it back about five or 10 minutes later.
"He said it was loaded, and then put in on the table," Doyle said. "He was kind of pressing us to agree with him."
Doyle said she isn't inherently threatened by guns. Her husband works in law enforcement and is routinely armed with one. The incident with Norman, she said, was different.
"I did feel unsafe," Doyle said. "I've never encountered something like this."
She, too, describes being angry.
"I was very angered," Doyle said. "Again, I didn't feel like he was going to use it, per se, but I didn't know what he was going to do with it."
The criticism that her group represents out-of-state interests or is completely anti-gun are false, Doyle said. There are "some laws that we are for, and some laws that we are against," she said.
"That's totally false," Doyle said. "We're not funded by out-of-state (people). It's volunteers. Nobody's paid. On several points he was gaslighting us."
Freeman, originally from Ohio, has lived on both coasts and most recently came from Austin, Texas. She is familiar with gun laws in other areas, and said she looks at South Carolina's rule as "the gold standard of concealed carry requirements" for requiring proof of proficiency and other measures.
She became a member of Moms Demand Action, a national group with local chapters, after researching ways to "politely ask" parents if they had firearms and how secure they are before letting her child spend time at friends' homes.
Her interest in gun control legislation began when her son was 3. That's when the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened in 2012.
"I just remember feeling devastated by that," Freeman said.
Similar incidents are bringing more people to her group. Freeman doesn't know numbers for South Carolina membership, but she said local participation has "at least tripled" this year, which she attributed largely to the shooting deaths of York County Sheriff's Office Det. Mike Doty and Peach Stand employee Karson Whitesell in Fort Mill.
"Our group has been growing and growing, because we had a local tragedy with a police officer and a young lady," Freeman said.
Nationally, the group has about 4 million members.
Freeman said she'd like for voters to consider Norman's decision to pull out the gun in Rock Hill when casting their votes this fall when he seeks reelection. One of Norman's opponents is Democrat Archie Parnell, who barely lost to Norman in last year's special election.
"I hope that voters will consider if they want to have the kind of lawmaker who will pull out a loaded gun during a meet-and-greet," she said.
Doyle, too, said her interests are highly personal and highly local. She spent time online Monday registering her daughter for kindergarten.
"It's very important that she feel safe, and I feel safe dropping her off," Doyle said. "That's my purpose in that."
As a social worker, she also sees cases involving guns used in domestic incidents. Doyle said Norman had no way of knowing who in the audience may have been a victim of gun violence, or who might interpret his action as a threat. She believes using the gun to make a point was "reckless."
"Taking out a gun to prove a point, to me, that's not civil discourse," Doyle said. "That's a threatening act. And I don't think my congressman should be doing that."