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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?

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.

Released today, the Justice Center’s 2009 Legislative Agenda is a comprehensive approach designed to solve problems that matter to North Carolina’s working families. The agenda consists of numerous policy options that constitute steps forward toward the goal of opportunity and prosperity for all.

Also today, we’ve published and distributed the first edition of the Justice Center’s Legislative Bulletin. The bulletin is a short-form briefing on issues of the day designed for lawmakers and legislative staff.

The first issue introduces and expands upon selected elements of the 2009 legislative agenda. The bulletin details selected examples of policy approaches that make sense in today’s budget climate — issues like homeowner and tenant protections, children’s health care, and necessary support for unemployed North Carolinians.

In future bulletins, we’ll offer specific policy analysis and recommendations on timely issues. A new legislative bulletin will be produced every two weeks at first, with a view to a weekly publishing schedule in the future. Read the first Legislative Bulletin online now.

Last week progressives in three states passed legislation that addresses living wages, state EITC and mental health parity.

We can do itMaryland approved the first-in-the-nation living wage bill. HB430, sponsored by Del. Herman Taylor, requires state contractors to pay employees a living wage. The bill creates a two-tier system: wages in urban areas will be at least $11.30 per hour; wages in rural areas will be at least $8.50 per hour. Maryland’s minimum wage is the same as North Carolina’s, $6.15 per hour.

New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) worth 8% of the federal EITC. HB 436 introduced by Rep. Ben Lujan will help low-income working families in New Mexico.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill broadening the state’s mental health parity law. The bill, HB1460 sponsored by Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, will require health insurers to offer mental health coverage that is equitable to medical coverage to small businesses and individuals. A 2005 mental health parity law already covered employees of large companies.

News of these bills passed by other states leaves me wondering, if they can do it, why can’t North Carolina?

This session, legislators are considering HB51, which provides a 10% of the federal EITC, as well as a mental health parity bill (SB1434). These bills would go a long way to improving life for half a million North Carolina families who are struggling financially. Other states are proving that it is not too costly to provide living wages, Earned Income Tax Credits or mental health parity. We can do it too! 

If you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of public apologizing going on these days. Several presidential candidates, including John Edwards, have apologized for their earlier positions on the Iraq war. The state democratic party has apologized for its role in the 1898 Wilmington riot. The state apologized to all the women sterilized under the state’s eugenics program. Now, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand has proposed legislation that would provide a formal apology for the state’s role in slavery and Jim Crow.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle are jumping on the apology bandwagon. But their ‘sorry’ rings hollow in my ears. I’m skeptical of legislators’ eagerness to express “profound regret” for mistakes of the past while so many injustices of the present are overlooked.

The remnants of social inequality created by slavery and segregation remain in our state today. You only have to look at our state’s statistics on health, education or economic security to see them. So if legislators genuinely wanted to make amends for these social injustices, they should address the inequality issues in North Carolina. Actions speak louder than words.

Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said he wants to see more concrete actions.

“I understand the spirit in reference to the resolution, and I’m going to support it, but I want to see some substance in terms of public policy that backs that apology up,” he said. “We need public policy. (Raleigh News & Observer)

A good starting point for legislative action is the HKonJ 14 point agenda put forth by the NC NAACP and endorsed by 70 other organizations. This agenda calls for policies that address inequalities in education, health access, criminal justice, employment and housing. This agenda gives legislators an opportunity to do more than say they’re sorry; it gives them an opportunity to mean it.