For too long, we’ve needed a public conversation on ways to prevent avoidable gun violence. In the past decade – a time when public policy has made it easier to purchase and carry firearms – at least 100 times as many Americans died from gunshot wounds than in combat in Iraq. In North Carolina, there were nearly 12,000 firearm deaths.
As weekly news accounts of mass violence and accidental shootings pile up, political will is strengthening in Washington to take common sense steps to turn this tide. Polling in North Carolina demonstrates that voters here support many of those proposals.
Last month, Public Policy Polling found that 56 percent of Tar Heel voters strongly support banning military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines capable of firing hundreds of bullets per minute. These are the weapons of choice for many mass casualty shootings and the ones that put our law enforcement officers in the greatest danger.
By an even bigger margin, 81 percent, voters here strongly support a law requiring background checks on all gun buys, including at gun shows and private party sales. These sensible laws would prevent many people who are already prohibited from possessing a gun from acquiring one. Universal background checks are merely an inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners, compared with the preservation of human life.
Fortunately, bipartisan legislation advancing these proposals is beginning to move in Congress. And with the N.C. General Assembly having convened this week, there are steps legislators in Raleigh can take as well. Here’s what they should do this session:
• Make mandatory reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when any person is denied a pistol or concealed carry permit by the sheriff in their county. This would prevent a person denied in one county from establishing residence in another county and getting a permit.
• Require more stringent training and certification for handguns and carry-concealed permits. If concealed weapons are going to be allowed in public, they should be more strictly regulated, requiring more hands-on training with proficiency testing and more frequent renewals.
• Repeal reciprocity for carrying concealed weapons, most especially with states that have lower requirements to carry than North Carolina. Why in the world would we have requirements for our own residents and then allow people with few or no requirements to carry a loaded gun in our communities?
• Make safe storage mandatory for all firearms. Every year, more and more children are killed because they found a parent’s firearm and picked it up. Telling children not to touch the gun or trying to hide it in the home is not good enough. Teens should not have easy access to guns, either. In 2010, 38,364 suicide deaths were reported in the U.S., and 75 percent were completed with a firearm. Every other means is much more survivable.
• Pass HB 1192: Amend Castle/Repeal Stand Your Ground. This bill is a beautifully written law that allows people to protect their homes and families. It eliminates the current “stand your ground” law that gives too much latitude to use deadly force away from home, when a person merely feels afraid, making the law a license to kill rather than a protective measure.
Enacting these proposals and addressing some of the other contributing factors such as accessibility to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment and job training would make North Carolina a safer and much friendlier place to live.
But gun lobbyists want to pretend that we did not just endure a year with 16 multiple death shootings and a rising number of gun deaths, despite a dropping crime rate. They want those guns present everywhere we take our families. Their vision is premised on the fantasy of the heroic bystander, but common sense and experience show us it’s just fantasy. More guns in chaotic situations mean more innocent people caught in the gunfire.
We will never prevent every bad guy from getting a gun, but we also can’t accept that mass violence, rising suicide rates and accidental shootings are part of American life. North Carolina voters are demanding sensible steps that they know will save lives and won’t cost anyone their constitutional rights. Legislators should listen.
Gail Neely is the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.