NC Democrats seek bipartisan gun laws after mass shooting
North Carolina Democratic legislators pleaded with the General Assembly’s Republican majority on Tuesday to consider gun safety and mental health measures, citing last week’s shootings in Raleigh that left five people dead.
Democratic lawmakers, one a resident of the east Raleigh subdivision where the shooting rampage began last Thursday, said the public expects elected officials to work together to pass laws designed to make them safer. Police attributed the shooting to a 15-year-old boy.
“This is an issue that transcends party. It’s an issue about our safety, the safety of our children, the safety of our state,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said at a news conference. Blue has lived in the Hedingham community where the shootings occurred for over 30 years “and never felt that I would be unsafe in the community where we raised our kids until last week.”
Previous Democratic requests for Republicans to permit debate and votes on gun-control measures and others to keep weapons out of the hands of people at extreme risk of becoming violent have been unsuccessful. Similar calls have arisen in North Carolina and in other states after mass shootings, such as those earlier this year in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
“My question today is now the time for a discussion of gun reform, or do we have to wait yet for another mass shooting?” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat.
Authorities haven’t disclosed what the teen fired first in the neighborhood and later on a walking trail along the Neuse River. One 911 caller said t he suspect was carrying a shotgun. Police said the 15-year-old was hospitalized in critical condition following his arrest, but authorities haven’t said how he was injured.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said in a statement later Tuesday that lawmakers for now “should remain focused on praying for the victims’ families and supporting law enforcement rather than seizing the moment for a political debate.”
“We need to allow law enforcement to complete their investigation before jumping to any conclusions about policy changes,” Moore added.
Some Democratic legislative proposals stand little chance of passage when lawmakers reconvene later this year or in the new session in January. They include background checks for all gun sales and barring people under 21 from owning assault-style weapons.
Democratic speakers said Tuesday that they were hopeful for bipartisan support on expanding further mental health services for young people, including those through schools. The two-year state budget approved in late 2021 provided funds for schools to hire the equivalent of 115 additional school psychologists. Blue said the school psychologist-to-student ratio in public schools remains low.
Democrats believe there is some Republican interest in creating a legal process for the removal of firearms from someone believed to be an extreme risk of harming themselves or others. Sweeping gun violence prevention legislation passed by Congress with support of some Republicans following the Uvalde shootings provides grants to states that initiate what also are known as “red flag” laws.
“I think I am starting to hear more willingness by others to engage in conversation,” said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat. She acknowledged later that such a legal process wouldn’t apply to juveniles, but other laws could be implemented to discourage gun access for youth.
That could include a bipartisan House measure, approved by a near-unanimous margin last year, that would direct and fund a two-year education campaign on the safe storage of firearms, including ways to receive a free gun lock.
State Sen. Bobby Hanig, a Pasquotank County Republican who sponsored the bill when he served in the House until recently, is strongly opposed to restrictive gun measures. Hanig said the education campaign is about increasing the probability that gun owners will use common sense and keep weapons securely away from someone who might want to do harm to themselves.
“If the gun is put away and it’s in a safe, we’ve just saved somebody’s life,” Hanig said.