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Most people recognize domestic violence for what it is: an epidemic with broad, often fatal, consequences.

But almost as many – a number that unfortunately includes domestic victims — don’t make the undeniable connection between spouse abuse and access to handguns.

Studies show that half of domestic homicides are firearm-related, and on average, for three-quarters of the women killed, it was an intimate partner who pulled the trigger.

Research suggests that many victims of domestic violence weren’t even aware of the guns kept in their homes. A study from the University of North Carolina found that 80 percent of women living in families, including small children, reported that ownership, care, and storage of guns in the home was the sole responsibility of their male partners.

Meanwhile, recent moves to ease regulations that encourage gun safety in the home threaten much of the progress we’ve made in curbing domestic violence.

In November, the nation’s gun lobby attempted to overturn federal legislation that keeps firearms out of the hands of people convicted of domestic violence. And in North Carolina, Sen. Doug Berger introduced a measure to repeal the Sheriff’s permit required to own a handgun in the state. These permits — reviewed by local sheriffs– are among the strongest tools in preventing spouse abusers from legally owning guns.

Today is the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, appropriately highlighted by educational forums, news stories and vigils of remembrance.

It was with heartbreaking results that domestic violence once was shrugged off as a private matter best handled among families. It would be just as tragic not to recognize the effects of decisions that remove restrictions on those who should not be permitted to own firearms and that discourage safe gun storage.

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Who in their right mind would vote against self-defense?

In the North Carolina Senate, as it turns out, just two members: Katie Dorsett and Ed Jones. And that’s because their minds were right.

Sens. Dorsett and Jones mustered the courage and diligence to see through unfounded claims from sponsors of SB 928, which was sold as a safeguard for self-defense.

This bill, however, has nothing to do with self-defense. North Carolinians, like all U.S. citizens, already have the right to protect themselves against an attack. Nowhere in the country is anyone being punished for acting in self-defense.

Instead, this “shoot first” law will legalize vigilantism. It provides shooters immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability, even if they kill or injure an innocent bystander or the wrong person.

SB 928 is a tragedy waiting to happen. Will it be the social worker making an unannounced visit? Or maybe it’ll be the postal carrier, or a volunteer distributing fliers.

Let’s hope House members will see through the rhetoric and recognize unnecessary and dangerous legislation when they see it. 

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It is impossible to not be horrified and shocked by an assault weapon rampage that in one month has cost at least 50 Americans their lives, including eight residents of a Carthage nursing home.

But we need to offer more than sympathy — we should pledge to end gun violence, no matter the opposition or the difficulty.

When gun violence strikes we shake our heads, we mourn those lost and some of us ask “Why?”  Then, unfortunately, we shrug our shoulders and return to our lives. Gun violence is the only epidemic that as a country we’ve written off as incurable.

It’s an epidemic, however, that we know how to treat. Rules on safely storing and handling firearms work to stop violence before it begins.  Sensible gun legislation keeps weapons out the wrong hands.

It appears our state legislators haven’t all gotten this message. During this month of horrific violence we’ve also seen a crop of dangerous bills proposed. Instead of working to prevent gun violence, SB 782 would repeal the required permit for handguns — providing no way to keep domestic violence abusers and the dangerous mentally ill from obtaining a deadly weapon. Worse yet, the “Shoot First” bill provides almost total immunity to someone who chooses to use lethal force.

Rather than working with law enforcement to create safe environments, our legislators seem to be telling us that our safety us up to us. Is this really the best we can do: a return to the days of the Wild West, with everyone packing heat?

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The public dialogue about ways to prevent needless gun violence usually gets caught in a Constitutional stand-off. But more often than not, the answer is in a good lock and key.

North Carolina is one of 18 states that require firearms be stored safely out of the hands of children. The problem, however, is that the statute says nothing about what constitutes “safe storage.” The law is enforceable only after a child is involved in a shooting, and is useless as a preventive tool.

A new survey of North Carolina voters by Public Policy Polling reports that almost half of the families with children under age 16 have a gun in the house. Previous studies have shown that, while two-thirds of gun owners are confident their children could not locate their firearm, just as many kids said they know just where to go.

New legislation being drafted for this session would apply the law to all gun owner’s homes and list guidelines for storing guns in the home. It would protect gun owners from prosecution if they follow recommendations such as storing firearms and ammunition separately. And picking up a free trigger lock from their Sheriff’s Department.