That disconnect is likely due in part to partisan gerrymandering, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for progressive policies.
The analysis looks at gerrymandering in five states, including North Carolina, where Democrats won the majority of statewide votes, but Republicans maintained control over the state legislatures. Conservative politicians in those states have “refused to allow a meaningful debate on any commonsense gun safety measures,” according to the report’s authors. The paper also looks at Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.
“In each of these states, it is likely that, in the absence of partisan gerrymandering, the legislature would have enacted measures to strengthen gun laws — measures that could have saved lives,” the paper says.
Eric Holder, former attorney general under the Obama administration, said in a statement that the CAP report makes clear that “partisan gerrymandering that locks in power for one party makes politicians more likely to cater to the special interests who fund their campaigns than the people they should represent.”
Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, added, “Finally ending gerrymandering when new maps are drawn in 2021 can be the key that unlocks progress on legislation supported by the vast majority of the American people to reduce gun violence.”
In 2018, Democrats won a majority of the major-party vote for both chambers of North Carolina’s legislature — 51.2% for the state House and 50.5% for the state Senate, according to CAP. Republicans, meanwhile, won 54.2% of the seats in the House and 58% of the seats in the Senate.
North Carolina was ranked No. 5 in a September report by the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which ranked the “worst U.S. state legislative partisan gerrymanders.”
North Carolina also experiences some of the highest levels of gun-related crime in the United States, according to CAP. The state had the 14th-highest rate of gun murders from 2008 through 2017 — a rate 16% higher than the national average.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave North Carolina a “D” on its annual scorecard grading state gun laws. The state ranked 24th out of 50 for the strength of its gun laws, according to the Giffords survey.
Meanwhile, there appears to be strong public support for tougher gun safety laws. A September poll of likely voters by the conservative nonprofit Civitas found that 58 percent of North Carolinians think that gun laws in the state are “not strict enough.”
An April poll by Elon University found that fear of shootings in public places topped the list of concerns that make North Carolina residents feel “very unsafe.”
The CAP analysis points to two pieces of legislation that have been pushed by gun safety advocates but have failed to pass in the Republican-led state legislature.
One is an extreme risk protection order — or “red flag” bill — that would allow courts to seize firearms from people deemed threats to themselves or others. The other measure includes a series of new restrictions on gun purchases.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has urged action on both bills, but they have both stalled in the General Assembly.
In August — in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio — Cooper signed an executive order to strengthen background checks for gun purchases, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. Cooper expressed disappointment that Republican leaders didn’t want to take up the gun bills.
“Recognizing that the odds are long for our current legislature to make real changes, today I signed an Executive Directive to my cabinet agencies to build on the work we’ve done to this point,” Cooper wrote on Twitter in August.
Some North Carolina Republicans, however, have said they’re more focused on mental health than gun control.
In September, after a spate of deadly shootings and amid a bipartisan clamor for new gun safety legislation, North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. Senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — remained relatively quiet on the issue.
“Gerrymandering is a solvable problem,” the CAP report states, suggesting that states use independent commissions to draw districts, and to create voter-determined districts.
For instance, the authors wrote, “if 55 percent of voters support a particular party, that party should receive as close as possible to 55 percent of the seats. When districts are fair, more votes generally means more seats.”