N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper called on Congress to require universal background checks and reinstate a nationwide ban on assault weapons, a day after a deadly shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
In a video released Wednesday afternoon, Cooper said Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in the North Carolina legislature need to work with their Democratic counterparts to “come to the table” and pass stronger laws restricting access to guns. Cooper urged the GOP-controlled legislature to pass multiple bills he has supported, and said voters should elect “new leaders” if the proposals don’t see any movement.
“What on Earth is more important than protecting our children?” said Cooper, a Democrat, in the video. “What on Earth is more important than stopping our schools, houses of worship and even grocery stores from turning into slaughter fields?”
The Texas shooting, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers, was the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history, according to the Texas Tribune. The gunman, an 18-year-old man, was killed by responding officers, the San Antonio Express-News reported. He lived in Uvalde, a town of about 16,000 people 80 miles west of San Antonio.
Cooper appeared to reference two bills introduced by Democratic Reps. Marcia Morey and Julie von Haefen as proposals that the legislature should pass. One would enable judges to block people who pose a threat to themselves or others from possessing firearms, and another would require permits to purchase shotguns and rifles. Both measures have stalled in committees since being filed last year.
In the same video, Cooper also said the legislature should pass Medicaid expansion, a longstanding point of contention between Democrats and Republicans that has gradually garnered some GOP support, and has been introduced by top Republicans in the state Senate. Cooper said the expansion would provide billions of dollars in funding for mental health, which he said gun advocates have said is a bigger issue when it comes to mass shootings.
State lawmakers have proposed a number of measures to both restrict and expand access to guns in the current 2021-22 session.
Cooper has vetoed bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that seek to make guns more accessible. Bills that would tighten regulations of firearms, almost always sponsored by Democrats, have rarely received committee hearings or floor votes.
Here are some of the major gun-related bills that have been introduced this session.
HB 525 - Extreme Risk Protection Orders
This bill, introduced by Morey of Durham, proposes a so-called “red flag” law to keep guns away from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
Under House Bill 525, family members, current or former spouses or dating partners, law enforcement officers, and health care providers, would be able to file a court petition asking a judge to order the person to surrender all of the firearms and other weapons in their possession for up to a year.
The bill is similar to other “red flag” measures proposed in other states and at the federal level, to keep guns out of the hands of people who are believed to be dangerous.
Morey introduced a similar bill during an earlier legislative session in March 2019. After mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio in August 2019, Morey held a press conference at the General Assembly urging lawmakers to consider the bill along with another measure, according to NC Policy Watch. The bill ultimately stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.
Morey introduced HB 525 this session, filing it in April 2021. It remains in the House Rules Committee.
HB 623 - Requiring permits for shotguns and rifles
Under House Bill 623, anyone trying to buy a long gun, defined in the legislation as a “shotgun or rifle that is not considered an antique firearm,” would need to obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office, as is currently required for handguns.
The bill was introduced by von Haefen of Wake County in April 2021. She filed a similar bill in the previous legislative session, which included additional regulations like a three-day waiting period and a ban on bump stocks. That bill did not move forward.
HB 623 was referred to the House Rules Committee, where it has remained in the time since it was introduced.
In September 2021, Morey and von Haefen announced they would use a rare mechanism, filing a discharge petition, to try and bypass committees and bring their bills (the “red flag” proposal and the measure requiring permits for long guns) directly to the House floor for a vote by the full chamber, NC Policy Watch reported.
HB 48 - Allowing paramedics concealed carry
In February 2021, Republicans in the state House introduced House Bill 48, which would allow paramedics who have undergone training and are assisting law enforcement officers in emergency situations to carry concealed weapons to defend themselves.
One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican, said he introduced the legislation after hearing from a paramedic in his district who was embedded with a SWAT team.
“We trust these people with our lives,” Warren said during a committee meeting last year. “We trust them to administer help for the people who need it, at a time they need it the most. I think we can trust them to make those right calls when they’re under a situation.”
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence said the bill was “unbelievable” and said paramedics should only be focused on treating people in emergencies.
The bill ultimately passed the House by a vote of 79-41. All but 10 Democrats voted against the bill. The bill moved onto the state Senate, where it has stalled.
HB 398 - Repealing permit requirement for pistols
Another contentious measure, House Bill 398, would have allowed people to buy handguns without getting a permit from their local sheriff’s office, as is currently required by state law.
Republicans who argued in favor of the bill said the permit requirement originated in the Jim Crow South and was intended to restrict gun ownership among Black people. Democrats, including Attorney General Josh Stein, said the bill would remove one of the most effective tools to keep guns away from domestic abusers, convicted felons and other dangerous people.
“At a time of rising gun violence, we cannot afford to repeal a system that works to save lives,” Cooper said in a veto message at the time. “The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands.”
In Congress, a pair of bills stalled in the Senate that would close loopholes that allow gun purchasers to slip past safety checks. Bill drafters drew inspiration for one of the bills after a background check should have prevented the 2015 church shooter in Charleston, S.C., from purchasing the gun he used to kill nine people.
The House passed both bills in March 2021, but has been waiting on the Senate to act. All of the Democrats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation supported the bills, while the Republican House members voted against them.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat who represents the area around Charlotte, tweeted: “The House has already passed legislation to stop this senseless gun violence that would save lives in every community across the United States.”
In 2019, UNC-Charlotte, a college in Adams’ district, became the site of a mass shooting that killed Reed Parlier and Riley Howell and injured four others. She remembered them in social media posts on Wednesday.
“I urge my colleagues in the Senate to bring this legislation to the floor,” her tweet continued.
Not all of Adams’ House colleagues agree with her.
Rep. Ted Budd, who owns a gun store and range in Rural Hall, near the seven counties he represents around central North Carolina, spoke out against both bills on the floor. He is currently running for U.S. Senate.
At the time, he said that the bills undermined law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
“What’s worse, both of these bills would have not prevented recent mass shooting tragedies across the nation,” Budd said then. “In those awful events, criminals either passed a background check or stole their weapons. We cannot sacrifice our rights by passing laws that will make our families less safe, and that criminals will ignore.”
Despite Budd’s warning, House Democrats gained enough Republican votes on both bills to pass the legislation through the chamber.
Delayed background checks
The first bill in Congress, known as The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, or H.R. 1446, is co-sponsored by all five Democrats representing North Carolina in the U.S. House.
Under current law, a licensed gun dealer must wait up to three days for a return on a submitted background check before transferring the gun to a buyer. Under H.R. 1446, the revised law would require a dealer to wait 10 business days for the background check to be returned before submitting a petition for a final firearms eligibility determination. If another 10 days passes without a response, the dealer is then permitted to give the gun to the buyer.
If this had happened in Charleston, the church shooter would have been flagged as ineligible for the sale because of a previous drug possession arrest found on his record.
Universal background checks
The second bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2021, or H.R. 8, would require background checks when guns pass between private parties.
Currently, licensed gun dealers must run background checks on potential buyers. These checks might catch buyers who are felons, are in the country illegally, have restraining orders against them due to domestic violence or have severe mental illness.
Again, all five of North Carolina’s Democrats in the U.S. House co-sponsored the bill, but none of the Republicans did.
Budd spoke out more forcefully against this bill, saying it would impose harsh six-figure fines and jail time against people who allowed another person to use their gun, even temporarily.
“Let’s say you loan your firearm to a victim of domestic violence because their abuser is being released from jail; or if a suicidal friend asks you to take possession of their firearm; or if you loan your cousin your gun after a series of burglaries in their neighborhood,” Budd said then. “These new transfer penalties would turn law-abiding Americans into criminals.”
Mental health and Second Amendment rights
Last May, Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, introduced a bill aimed at protecting Second Amendment rights while improving firearm safety and keeping guns from the wrong people.
The bill looked at addressing mental health concerns related to firearm purchases, bolstering alerts to law enforcement and commissioning a study on the causes of mass shootings. It also is aimed at improving the system used to run criminal background checks.
Tillis, along with Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas introduced the bill known as Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2021, or H.R. 1775 but it hasn’t moved in the Senate since.