Politics & Government

Bipartisanship on guns? NC Democrats propose new laws without GOP backers

Democratic legislators presented a slate of proposed laws aimed at curbing gun violence that they said should earn bipartisan support.

But no Republicans appeared with the Democratic proponents at a Monday news conference. Democrats said they have reached out to GOP colleagues.

"We are absolutely seeking Republican co-sponsors," said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat. The news conference "is the beginning of a real conversation," he said, and a message that "we are interested in finding common-ground support."

The Parkland, Florida, high school shooting last month, which left 17 people dead, has put gun laws and protecting schools at the center of debate in the North Carolina legislature, which starts its short session in May.

Students nationwide, including thousands in the Triangle, walked out of school last week to remember the Parkland school shooting victims and call for an end to gun violence.

Some school districts, including Stanly and Rockingham counties, are pursuing implementation of a little-noticed 2013 law that allows volunteers who are former law enforcement or military police officers to patrol schools.

The Democrats' proposal includes versions of changes that have become law in other states.

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, Florida raised the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21 and banned bump stocks that allow for faster firing of semi-automatic rifles. The North Carolina Democrats repeatedly invoked Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott at their news conference.

The Democratic lawmakers' proposal largely mirrors the ideas that Gov. Roy Cooper set forth in a social media post last week, including raising the age to 21 for buying what they described as assault weapons. One difference, Chaudhuri said, is that instead of calling for Medicaid to cover more people, the lawmakers propose funding more school psychologists and counselors.

Included in their proposal is a way for courts to use "extreme risk protection orders" to temporarily remove guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Rep. Marcia Morey, a former Durham judge, presented such orders as a step beyond domestic violence protective orders. Anyone with direct personal knowledge can ask the court to remove a gun from someone who exhibits threatening, dangerous behavior, she said, while due process rights are preserved.

Their proposal would also require background checks before purchase of semi-automatic weapons such as an AR-15 from a private seller, as is already the case for people who buy handguns.

Democrats are getting out ahead of a House school safety committee Republican House Speaker Tim Moore organized, which will have its first meeting this week.

Republican co-chairmen of the school safety committee have promised to hear all ideas, but early on, Moore dismissed "the gun debate" as "a discussion for another time."

F. Paul Valone, president of the gun-rights group Grassroots NC, called the Democrats' proposal "an attempt to incrementally end the private ownership of firearms."

The proposed age restriction is a ploy to stunt the appreciation for the Second Amendment among people younger than 21, he said. And the extreme risk protection laws enacted in other states limit due process because judges can make decisions without all parties present, Valone said.

"Any of these proposals, if they come out of the General Assembly, we will vociferously oppose them by all possible means," Valone said. Grassroots NC tracks legislators' votes and sends out 150,000 voter guides, he said.

Democrats called on the school safety committee to consider their bill. Chaudhuri said Democrats would file it even if the safety committee doesn't support it.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner
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