More than a month after a gunman killed 17 in a Florida high school, several North Carolina Democrats called on state lawmakers Monday to pass a package of gun reforms that’s expected to include an expansion of background checks, raising the age for purchasing assault weapons, a ban on bump stocks and additional funding for school counselors and psychologists.
Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a veteran Durham Democrat, called the package “incremental legislation” that he hoped would have the support of Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly.
“We’re taking steps to move our state in the right direction,” said McKissick.
McKissick noted he’s also a victim of gun violence, referring to a reported 1985 incident in a North Carolina convenience store in which robbers reportedly wounded him with a sawed-off shotgun.
Monday’s press conference at the state legislature was hosted by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, and included multiple calls for “common sense” reforms from Democrats such as McKissick, Rep. Marcia Morey, Rep. Grier Martin and Sen. Jeff Jackson.
“We realize the issue of gun violence can be fraught with controversy,” said Chaudhuri. “But controversy should not be confused with common sense gun measures.”
No North Carolina Republicans have officially endorsed the proposals put forth Monday, but Democratic lawmakers insisted that the measures have “bipartisan” support, pointing out similar reforms were passed by Florida Republican lawmakers and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott this month.
No draft legislation was available yet Monday, but Democrats said the package will follow Florida Republicans in lifting the legal age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21 and banning bump stocks, which can be used to speed firing from semi-automatic rifles. A gunman reportedly used bump stocks last year when he allegedly killed 58 and injured more than 800 at a Las Vegas concert.
“This is the essence of bipartisanship,” said Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat.
The package would also include a “red flag” provision, said Morey, a retired district court judge from Durham, allowing courts to hold a hearing to determine if a “dangerous” individual’s guns should be taken away.
Morey compared her proposal to existing court protections for victims of domestic violence, who can petition courts to seize weapons and impose restraining orders on their alleged abusers.
Monday’s press conference followed several days after K-12 students nationwide walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence.
Many of the ideas put forth Monday mirrored those made by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper last week, although lawmakers said they will also move to expand funding for school counselors and psychologists. It was unclear how much additional funding legislators would seek at press time.
McKissick said North Carolina employs one school psychologist for every 2,000 students. Nationally, schools have about one psychologist for every 700 students.
Meanwhile, he said the state has just one school counselor for every 375 students, compared to the national ratio, which is about one for every 250 students.
Lawmakers said they would also support an anonymous tip line statewide that would allow individuals to report persons that they believe to be dangerous.
Finally, the package would direct the state’s Center for Safer Schools to study whether additional school resource officers are need in K-12 schools.
Asked why the proposals would not include mandatory wait times for firearms purchases, McKissick said Democrats were hoping to build a consensus. A proposal on wait times would have generated “substantial pushback,” he said.
“You want to try to come up with issues that hopefully will get that bipartisan support.”
Bipartisan support will be pivotal for reforms in the Republican-dominated legislature. However, state Republicans have been reluctant to back any enhanced gun control measures since the Parkland shooting.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, assembled a select panel on school safety to consider similar matters. That committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, at least one GOP lawmaker has joined in on calls to arm teachers, an idea that’s receiving a mostly icy reception from the state’s educators, according to an Elon University poll this month.