This month marked the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The deadliest high school mass shooting in American history, the Parkland tragedy made more urgent the always contentious political issue of gun laws.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans support putting strong or moderate restrictions on firearms, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier this month. That includes 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.
That sentiment fueled many of the campaigns that led to Democratic congressional gains in the latest election and helped spur the U.S. House approving expanded background checks this week for gun sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet.
But in the North Carolina General Assembly, where two very different gun bills were filed this month, the standoff over gun laws looks much as it has for years.
“We have offered gun safety bills every year since [the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT,]” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).
None of them have gotten a vote.
Harrison is one of the sponsors of the latest effort, House Bill 86 – the Gun Violence Protection Act.
The bill would, among other provisions:
- Require gun owners to carry liability insurance
- Allow cities and counties to establish their own rules on where guns are permitted
- Require gun owners to report a lost or stolen weapon to law enforcement within 48 hours
- Allow law enforcement to destroy firearms they seize
- Make it a misdemeanor to fail to store a firearm secure, locked container when not in use.
“This state has gone in the exact opposite direction we need to be going,” Harrison said, pointing to a series of laws that have slowly expanded where guns can be legally carried, as well as an annual volley of bills that seek do away with still more regulations.
For several years now, a group of Republican legislators and gun-rights activists have pushed to do away with the law requiring a permit to carry a concealed handgun. And while those bills have been beaten back several times with the help of opposition from law enforcement – including the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs, the Fraternal Order of Police and some of the state’s most popular conservative police chiefs and sheriffs – a 2017 version did manage to pass the state House before dying in the Senate Rules committee.
An amended version of that bill is back this session as House Bill 61.
The bill’s primary sponsors – Reps. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) and Larry Potts (R-Davidson) – could not be reached or did not return calls for comment this week.
The three lawmakers are among a group of hard-line conservatives within the GOP majority that have also sponsored controversial bills this session that would defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and dramatically restricting abortion rights.
Paul Valone, President and co-founder of the gun rights group Grassroots North Carolina, said his group supports the bill. It isn’t a clean “constitutional carry” bill, Valone said, in that it would only allow people to carry concealed in places where they can now carry openly and does require a permit under certain circumstances. But it is progress, he said.
“In a perfect world we would have full-on constitutional carry,” Valone said. “But as I think the Left is fond of doing, they are fond of removing my rights incrementally – taking a little piece here and a little piece there. We lost those rights incrementally and we intend to gain them incrementally. Anything that moves the ball a little further down the field works for us.”
The new bill actually raises the proposed age for carrying a concealed gun from 18 to 21, which Valone said his group knew would be a sticking point in the debate over the last bill. Even some Republican lawmakers who consider themselves strong proponents of the Second Amendment were uneasy with the age set at 18.
Valone acknowledges that the political environment has changed some sine 2017. Democrats made gains in the General Assembly in the last election, breaking a GOP supermajority that allowed them to easily overturn vetoes from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. But he still said he hopes legislators will do the right thing.
“Some have said we shouldn’t move this bill because Roy Cooper will veto it,” Valone said. “Here’s the bottom line: do you believe, or should anyone believe, that because you expect others to do the wrong thing, you should do the wrong thing too?”
Becky Ceartas of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence said her group also trusts lawmakers will do the right thing.
“I definitely think public opinion is on our side,” Ceartas said. “It has been on our side for things like universal background checks for handguns. We have had success time after time in keeping our permitting system. That’s incredibly important.”
“We also know the governor has pledged his support for gun violence prevention,” Ceartas said. “We know these things have garnered bi-partisan support and we look forward to continuing that bi-partisan support.”
Both bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) and Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry). Neither measure has yet been scheduled for a hearing. Detailed summaries of the proposals can be accessed here and here.