Editorial: Common sense on gun control

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2018

We hope a package of “common sense” gun legislation proposed by Democratic North Carolina lawmakers doesn’t have a target on its back. This is one reform effort that needs to be relentlessly bipartisan.

In the past, Republicans in the General Assembly haven’t been friendly to gun-control proposals and have instead gone in the opposite direction, liberalizing the state’s gun laws and making it easier for North Carolinians to get guns and to carry them almost anywhere.

But in many states, the mass shootings in Las Vegas and more recently at a high school in Parkland, Florida, have led to a reappraisal of gun laws and the introduction of some reasonable restrictions that have little impact on the typical gun owner but may help keep guns out of the hands of people suffering mental illness and violent tendencies.

The proposals, unveiled last week by five Democratic House and Senate members from urban counties, include:

• Expanding the background checks now required for the purchase of handguns to sales of “assault style” weapons.

• Raising the minimum age for purchasing those weapons from 18 to 21.

• Allowing the courts to issue orders to take firearms from people who are adjudged a danger to themselves or their community.

• Banning “bump stock” devices that turn semiautomatic weapons into rapid-firing automatic weapons.

• Creating a statewide pilot program in which students could send with their electronic devices anonymous tips about school safety concerns.

Those proposals are similar to ones contained in gun legislation that passed nearly unanimously in the heavily Republican Florida legislature, in reaction to the Parkland shootings that killed 17 people. Some of them might have prevented the Parkland shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, from getting and using the military-style, high-capacity weapon he used.

They are also similar to proposals put forward by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. We hope that partisanship doesn’t doom these reasonable ideas.

Some Republicans in the General Assembly have already warned that the governor is trying to restrict their Second Amendment rights. But the Second Amendment doesn’t confer absolute rights. This country has long extended reasonable restrictions — the need for adequate training and safety, age limits for ownership, bans on weapons of mass destruction. And there is nothing in the Democratic proposals that will interfere with the right of sane adults to own and use the legal weapons of their choice — including military-style semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines. These restrictions would only keep those weapons out of the hands of unstable and dangerous people, and would prevent teenagers from buying them.

This state’s lawmakers also began discussing other safety measures last week as a new House committee began looking at school safety in the wake of the Parkland shootings. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and one of the committee’s chairmen, says, “We want committee members to absorb as much information as possible prior to a discussion about current law and potential policy procedures.”

The committee meeting included presentations on physical security at schools and mental health services. It’s clear that we need to improve our standards on both of those issues. While the debate has focused so far on measures to stop active shooters once they get into a school or other public venue, it’s just as important — maybe, in fact, more important — that we talk about prevention.

Are our schools too easy for would-be shooters to enter? Have we so gutted our mental health services — in our schools and in our communities — that we have little ability to spot and deal with troubled people like Nikolas Jacob Cruz before they snap?

So far this year, we are averaging one school shooting a week across America. It’s clear that the problem is serious and may be getting worse. The crusading Parkland kids are right: They should be able to feel safe in their classrooms. And we adults are the ones who can make them safer. North Carolina lawmakers need to check their partisanship at the door and come up with legislation that makes it happen.

— The Fayetteville Observer