The most telling thing about stalled attempts to pass a “red flag” gun law in North Carolina is Republicans’ mortal fear of even discussing it.
The first time a bill surfaced, it was banished to committee, never to be seen or heard from again.
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 an honest discussion and 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 it as HB 454.
Gov. Roy Cooper cited those attempts during a speech in Greensboro recently. 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. In 2018, he said, convictions were not properly entered more than 280,000 times. In addition, the governor 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. Sponsored by state House Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat who is a former judge, the bill would allow family members or law enforcement to request, via a sworn affidavit, that a judge issue a temporary order to remove guns from a person who is considered a danger to himself or others. The guns would be removed, then the owner could make the case before a judge that he or she should get the guns back.
Also called “extreme risk protection orders” and “risk warrant laws,” such bills have been passed in 17 states, as well as 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.”
In states that have passed them, such 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 passage. But when the law was more aggressively enforced following the 2007 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 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 (that might be answered if 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.