By Anthony Harrison, Staff Writer
Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. Glocks and AR-15’s. 9mm’s and .223’s.
These places and phrases were splattered over the news media throughout this past year. The rash of mass shootings in 2012 left over 140 people killed or wounded and led to a reappraisal of gun laws and legislation across the nation.
In North Carolina, however, the conversation on gun control is taking a hard-line stance against progressive legislation.
North Carolina already has comparatively loose regulation on firearms. Citizens are required to possess a permit in order to purchase a handgun, but not a rifle or shotgun. Furthermore, no license or registration is required to own a firearm, background checks are not required to purchase rifles or shotguns, weapons regulated by the National Firearms Act, including automatic weapons, can be owned by civilians at the discretion of law enforcement, citizens are allowed to carry most firearms openly in public and there are no restrictions on civilian ownership of military-style weapons.
In 2009, there were 1,083 firearm-related deaths in North Carolina, accounting for 60 percent of violent deaths in the state. 61 percent of them were suicides.
In the face of these statistics, Republicans in the General Assembly wish to further relax the legislation, instead of amending and tightening extant laws.
Representative Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) is an especially extreme supporter of gun deregulation. Pittman sponsors a bill allowing unregulated, concealed carry of firearms nearly everywhere, excepting schools, federal buildings and businesses prohibiting weapons; a corps of “constables,” concealed-carry permit holders with “extra training,” who could remain armed in prohibited areas; and conditions which would place gun rights in the hands of the state, regardless of federal policy.
“The Second Amendment does not give you the right to keep and bear arms,” Pittman said in front of a crowd of 500 in Raleigh on Feb. 5. “It only acknowledges that God gave you that right.”
Pittman’s comments drew cheers from the audience.
Fortunately, Rep. Pittman’s tirade does not represent the General Assembly as a whole. There are other voices in the legislature who speak from a more moderate perspective concerning gun control.
Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) describes herself as a “pro-gun safety legislator” and a gun owner.
“There’s more we could be doing to protect the public, in terms of trigger locks, liability requirements for gun owners, universal background checks, better registration and more restriction on concealed-carry opportunities,” Harrison said in a phone interview.
“But it’s nearly impossible to overcome the influence of the National Rifle Association. It’s very disappointing.”
During The Great Gun Debate, a forum on gun control held on Feb. 8 in Winston-Salem, Rep. Harrison said, “This might be a semantic discussion, but I think that there’s a place for semi-automatic weapons, and I understand the distinction (between semi-automatic and automatic weapons), but I don’t think we need civilians carrying AR-15’s and AK-47’s.
“I understand the right to bear arms, I understand the Second Amendment, but I don’t think the founders of this country could have contemplated high-capacity assault rifles.”
As a gun owner myself, it’s harTd to see fault in Rep. Harrison’s views. I believe whole-heartedly in implementing background checks, requiring registration and tightening restrictions on concealed-carry permits, as well as instituting waiting periods for all firearms purchases and doing away with open-carry. I think that this level of regulation should be enforced over something that is made to kill.
Stricter gun laws are not an unpopular thing. According to North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, 90 percent of North Carolina voters, including 87 percent of gun owners, support universal background checks on all firearms sales. Also, 67 percent of North Carolinians believe that handguns should be under permit county-by-county, a figure which includes 57 percent of gun owners.
However, I’m not sure North Carolina will be so receptive to gun-control reform. As Rep. Harrison pointed out, the influence of the NRA on the Republican-controlled General Assembly is a strong barrier against progressive legislation, even if that legislation is based entirely on common sense.
Also, the fact remains that North Carolina is a Southern state. The South has a long, storied history with hunting and shooting sports, and the South likes its guns.
Unfortunately, the NRA has abused this affinity to distort the minds of gun owners into believing that any reform of gun control implies that the government will eventually outlaw private ownership of firearms, which is simply not the case.
Sadly, until gun-control reform is forced into action, North Carolina will still be as gung-ho for gun rights as people like Representative Pittman, and gun death and injury will continue to be a grave problem in the state.
Be sure to read Anthony’s coverage of The Great Gun Debate.