Over her 18 years as a district court judge, State Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) heard the same sad story a number of times in the wake of gun violence.
“I heard cases where witnesses testified they knew something bad was going to happen,” Morey said at a press conference Tuesday. “It could have been prevented.”
On Tuesday Morey, Reps. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) and Grier Martin (D-Wake) filed House Bill 454 – which would allow for “extreme risk protection orders” to restrict someone’s access to guns if there is evidence they are a danger to themselves or others.
Similar “red flag bills” have been passed in 14 states and Washington D.C.
Under this bill, judges could issue the protection orders in a manner similar to domestic violence restraining orders. A partner, family member or law enforcement officer with first-hand knowledge of a potential danger could petition a district judge for the order.
If granted, law enforcement would be ordered to temporarily remove any firearms and schedule a hearing within 10 business days to determine the nature of the danger, if the weapons should be returned and whether the person needs treatment.
“This should not be a political debate,” Morey said, calling it a common-sense response to the uptick in mass shootings of the last few years.
“After the story is written, we find out there were warning signs,” Morey said.
A similar bill filed last year didn’t get a hearing. But the time is now for the state to move forward on this issue. Morey said. She pointed to a GOP-led panel debating a related federal bill Tuesday, led by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The U.S. Senate bill, proposed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R- FL), would allocate $100 million in federal dollars over the next five years to states that implement “extreme risk protection orders.” Both Rubio and Graham have taken heat over the bill from gun groups.
While no Republican state lawmakers co-sponsored her current bill, Morey said, she has had some productive conversations about it with her GOP colleagues and some may eventually sign on.
Harrison emphasized that family members close to someone may be in the best position to see dangerous behavior – and prevent not just potential murders but also suicides.
Suicide accounts for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the U.S., killing about 21,000 Americans a year. Possession of a gun triples the risk of suicide by gun, Harrison said – and it is the most deadly means of suicide, with a death rate of 85 percent for those who attempt it.
Martin recounted a deadly shooting committed by one of his classmates on Franklin Street when he was a law student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Flanked by the young activists of the March for Our Lives and Lobby for Our Lives movements at the press conference, Martin said he regrets that more hasn’t been done since then to give families and law enforcement a means to prevent such shootings before they happen.
“My generation failed to find a solution to the problem,” Martin said. “But I’m excited to see this generation step up and lead, step up and act.”
Not everyone is so enthused by the bill.
Paul Valone, president and co-founder of the gun rights group Grassroots North Carolina, said he’s concerned about the proliferation of such bills and expects them to be defeated in this state.
“I am concerned any time any state passes a gun control law which punishes the law abiding for the acts of the lawless,” Valone said.
Valone said so-called “red flag” laws should be called “gun confiscation laws” – and they violate the Bill of Rights.
“I defy you to find any other constitutional freedom guaranteed by the bill of rights that allow you to be deprived of your rights without due process,” Valone said. “A judge rubber stamps one of these gun confiscation orders. Normally a judge would issue a restraining order to a ham sandwich if need be.”
Valone had similar disdain for House Bill 456 , also filed Tuesday. That bill, sponsored by Morey, Harrison and Christy Clark (D-Mecklenburg), would require registration of long-guns as well as handguns.
Such laws are remnants of racist Jim Cow laws that gave local sheriffs the ability to deny licenses as they saw fit, Valone said. Those sorts of gun requirements should be repealed, Valone said, not expanded to new classes of guns.