Imagine the role North Carolina – with its Republican-majority General Assembly and its Republican governor – could play in the national gun control debate by becoming the lead state in taking the “meaningful action” President Obama has called for.
If a state like this, with its GOP leadership, had the courage and sense to say “Enough” and blast a figurative hole in the gun lobby’s stranglehold on legislators, it could earn the everlasting gratitude of a nation with too many holes blasted in its people.
I have written before to encourage gun control, and I suffered the predictable wrath of gun supporters. But this time is different. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and his well-paid spin doctors cannot go on their blithe autopilot and say that armed teachers would have prevented the Connecticut catastrophe. It is a ludicrous claim – few if any armed citizens ever have stopped assaults like this.
One pro-gun website, “ gunssavelives. net,” claims that deranged people will use weapons other than guns in their deadly attacks. But its claim is based on an assault in China just last week in which the attacker used a knife. What the website fails to say is that no child died – they were only wounded.
Could the Newtown gunman have accomplished his deadly mission with a knife? A club? A crossbow? No, he needed two pistols and a powerful rifle to wreak the carnage he did. Once again, the mass killings and suicides of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Binghamton, the Clackamas Mall last week and now Sandy Hook Elementary School are clear signs that a society with easy access to weapons of mass murder is simply asking for it.
The first step in responding to this tragedy is to take a deep breath and calmly remind the NRA that it does not control every legislature in the country. The NRA today exists not to protect gun owners on Second Amendment grounds, but to feather its own nest and ensure its continuing practice of frightening legislators into supporting NRA gun theories. It’s about power, not rights.
I am not against gun ownership in general. I know that most Americans, by a slim majority, support individual gun ownership. My father was a big hunter, and I was on my college rifle team. What I propose would protect sportsmen, hunters, target shooters and others with legitimate interests in firearms.
North Carolina can take several steps that will put it out front among the states, and even provide a model for federal gun regulation.
• First, the sale of assault rifles must stop. There is simply no legitimate need in the general population for them.
• Second, applicants for gun permits must take more steps than they do now to assert their suitability to own guns. I would suggest two written personal references, from people in positions to assess the character of the applicant, like teachers, clergy or police. A thorough background check goes without saying, and all of this should focus on the applicant’s mental stability.
The permits should last two years, with the biennial renewal requiring another background check if not the character references. Penalties for gun-related violence should be ratcheted up to where they make a real difference, like years of imprisonment on the first offense. The ammunition and guns themselves should be registered with traceable serial numbers or some other tracking technology.
Municipalities should run gun buy-back programs to get as many firearms off the streets as possible, keeping them in the hands of responsible sportsmen rather than criminals or the mentally unstable. Rules requiring weapons and ammunition to be secured in the owner’s home should be part of this picture, as many firearms used in crimes are stolen from their owners.
The list could go on. Underlying all of this, though, must be the genuine desire to lessen gun violence and the political nerve to make it happen. The N.C. General Assembly and governor could attract positive national attention to our wonderful state if they had the collective courage to take the steps they know need to be taken.
The governor is a Republican. The majorities in the House and Senate are Republican. They have the governing roles they craved. Now they know what they need to do. What do they have to be afraid of, anyway?
Bob Kochersberger teaches journalism at N.C. State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.