The bills are broadly aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed a risk to themselves or others.
After he found out his fiancée had been shot and killed while walking her dog, a grief-stricken Rob Steele took his gun out of his safe. He unloaded the magazine, put the ammunition back in the metal box, then handed his firearm to a doctor.
“I red-flagged myself because I was smart enough to know I was not going to be OK,” Steele said. “I have not asked for it back, and I have no intention of doing so anytime soon.”
Steele, whose fiancée was among the five people killed in a mass shooting last October in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood, appeared alongside Democratic lawmakers Tuesday to discuss a slate of gun-reform bills in an attempt to prevent mass shootings and suicides. One of those measures would create a red-flag law. Such statutes, used in 19 other states, allow courts to temporarily take guns from people after a hearing to determine whether they are a danger to themselves or others.
“It’s a temporary fix, but it can avoid crisis,” said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham).
Legislators suggested such measures would keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who would use them to achieve tragic, violent ends.
“We saw firsthand the damage that can be done when the wrong people have access to firearms,” said Rep. James Roberson (D-Wake).
Another bill would allow people to voluntarily surrender their unwanted guns and to authorize law enforcement agencies to destroy certain firearms. A report in The News & Observer published last week found that police departments in North Carolina’s 10 most populous cities were sitting on more than 74,000 guns they were unable to destroy, mostly because of a state law.
“It’s time to destroy these guns,” Morey said.
Yet another gun bill would require people to obtain a permit before buying a long gun. The proposal appears to contradict the aims of a Republican bill that would repeal the pistol purchase permit that is required to obtain a firearm in North Carolina. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) called that bill “the antithesis of commonsense gun reform.”
“It is the opposite of what North Carolinians want us to be doing. And it’s a relinquishment of our job to protect North Carolinians from gun violence,” Marcus said.
Marcus is one of the primary sponsors of an omnibus bill titled “The Gun Violence Prevention Act.” The 16-page proposal would require universal background checks before a person could buy a gun. It would make it a misdemeanor for a minor to possess or buy a long gun. It would outlaw bump stocks, which people use to turn guns into military-style firearms by outfitting them with technology that stores more ammunition and allows them to fire faster.
“We know that these mass gun shootings would be much less lethal if folks had to stop and reload,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).
As Republicans did earlier in the session, Democrats challenged their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to work with them to make North Carolina safer.
“We have done the work here to offer up ideas that I believe are popular and so necessary here in North Carolina,” Marcus said. “I hope we can enact at least some of these ideas sooner rather than later.”
In a press conference held last month Republicans trumpeted their own “commonsense gun legislation bills” that would make it easier for North Carolinians to acquire and wield firearms.
“What we’re doing is we’re making it easier for legal, law-abiding citizens to go out and purchase a firearm to protect themselves,” said Sen. Danny Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland).
The tone of the Democrats’ press conference was much different. They ticked off statistics illustrating the prevalence of gun violence: 45,222 gun deaths in the United States in 2020, more than half of which were suicides. More than 1 million guns stolen from private citizens between 2017 and 2021. Seven mass shootings across North Carolina since the beginning of the year. Thirteen firearms found in public schools across the state just last month.
“This is a public health crisis,” Morey said. “The truth is that the states which have the most gun safety laws are the states with the lowest gun violence. We must become one of those states.”
Several sheriffs joined the Democratic legislators Tuesday. Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller asked the question spoken after every mass shooting: When is enough, enough?
“Now is the time,” Miller said. “We’re desperate for help.”
Morey said she was optimistic when asked if she thought Republicans would work with Democrats on their gun reform proposals.
“We’ll see when these bills are read in today on the House, where they assign ‘em,” Morey said midday. “If they go to Rules, we know that’s a dead end.”
All the bills the Democrats listed in their media advisory were later sent to House and Senate Rules committees.