The most telling thing about stalled attempts to pass a “red flag” gun law in North Carolina is House Republicans’ mortal fear of even discussing it.
The first time a bill surfaced, it was banished to committee (the equivalent of tumbling through a trap door into a dungeon). There was no debate. No public input. No expert testimony. Nothing.
The bill would have allowed family members or law enforcement to request that a judge issue a temporary order to remove guns from a person who is considered a danger to himself or others.
It deserved a fair hearing. Instead, it was ignored to death.
Now in the wake of one, two and then three more mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers are trying to resuscitate HB 454. But they’ve made little progress in bringing the bill to the House floor for debate.
Gov. Roy Cooper cited those attempts during a speech in Greensboro on Monday. Cooper also announced executive orders for the SBI to make certain that all criminal convictions in the state are entered into the National Instant Criminal Background System, ordered the SBI to provide behavioral threat assessment training to local law enforcement and asked for public awareness initiatives from the state Department of Health and Human Resources on suicide prevention and gun-storage safety.
A red flag law is a reasonable next step. Filed by state House Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat and a former judge, the bill would allow family members or law enforcement to request that a judge issue a temporary order to remove guns from a person who is considered a danger to himself or others. Among the primary sponsors is Greensboro Democrat Pricey Harrison.
Also called “extreme risk protection orders” and “risk warrant laws,” such bills have been passed in 17 states and the District of Columbia. President Trump voiced his support for red flag laws after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms,” the president said in an address to the nation on Aug. 5, “and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.” (Then again, late last week, the president was backing off tougher gun laws, as he has before.)
In states that have passed them, red flag laws have shown promise, especially in reducing suicides. In Connecticut, the first state to adopt a red flag law in 1999, firearm suicides dropped by 1.6% after its initial passage. In 2007, when the law was more aggressively enforced following the Virginia Tech shootings, firearm suicides dropped by 13.7%. That’s significant, since nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in America are suicides. In the 10 years following passage of Indiana’s law in 2005, gun suicides dropped by 7.5%. A separate study by Duke University study found that, for every 10 gun seizures in Connecticut and Indiana, roughly one suicide was prevented.
To be sure, the impact of red flag laws on mass shootings is not clear. And there are valid questions about possible unintended consequences of such laws (if only Congress would fund national research on gun violence, which it still refuses to do). But to not consider such a law in North Carolina, in the open, on its merits, is both indefensible and irresponsible.