“The rights of conscience, of bearing arms…are declared to be inherent in the people.” ~ Fisher Ames, 1789.
Media sensationalism over school shootings and selective gun violence is fueling an angst among many politicians and some of the citizenry for more gun regulations, including in North Carolina. For many on the Left, more regulatory action on firearms is the first step towards moving society in a direction where only law enforcement and a very limited number of citizens are allowed to be armed.
Recent tragedies have emboldened State and local politicians and some citizens (particularly urban) to step up their rhetoric to restrict an inherent right to bear arms – a right with traditionally deep support in North Carolina, especially given the state’s large rural population. A 2017 article notes that North Carolina has a larger rural population than any other state except for Texas, and proportionally has the largest rural population amongst the 10 most populous states. Their rights, as well as the rights of all North Carolinians, are placed at risk by an increasing list of demands for increased gun control.
North Carolina Gun Laws or California?
After the high profile school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February of 2018, Gov. Roy Cooper quickly called for more gun control. That March, Cooper said the Jim Crow era pistol approval process managed by the county Sheriffs needs to be expanded to include “assault rifles,” a nebulous term for certain semi-automatic rifles. Federal background checks are already required for all firearms purchased from a licensed dealer. Cooper is in favor too of raising the minimum purchase age from 18 to 21 for what he deems “assault rifles,” banning bump stocks, and implementing gun restraining orders. (Note, 80 percent of gun crimes occur with a handgun and by somebody who is not the legal owner.)
Cooper, who in the past received an “A” rating from the NRA as attorney general (to the ire of many state Second Amendment activists) is calling on the federal government to ban many semi-automatic rifles too. “Until the federal government takes action to discontinue the sale of assault weapons to civilians, North Carolina law should be updated to raise the legal age of sale of these weapons to age 21 and require anyone buying them — at a store, online, or at a gun show — to go through the same background check and permitting process as they would for a handgun,” declared Cooper in a March article he penned for Medium. “There’s no good reason for the current double standard,” he declared. Guns being sold at stores already go through a federal background check but Cooper’s proposal will strip the rights of young adults to legally purchase many mainstream semi-automatic firearms.
One of the more controversial restrictions is gun restraining orders, introduced in May as a stand-alone bill in the House by Democrat State Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham.
In Morey’s version, the Extreme Risk Protection Orders gives family, “household members,” and law enforcement the ability to have firearms seized. Temporarily, at least. The thinking is that the person may pose a clear and present danger to themselves or the public. The gun owner or the accused would then receive a hearing before a judge (no later than 10 days in most cases) to show that they are fit for ownership and not a threat to the public.
While the measure sounds good in theory, the seizure of weapons threatens our long established understanding of due process. “Well, we call it gun-confiscation orders because it’s largely confiscating firearms for people without due process,” says Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights.
Furthermore, the legislation lends itself to abuse since former spouses, a co-parent, or “dating partner” in another household could potentially use the law as a means for retaliation over domestic conflict or disagreements. “Otherwise, a family member whose angry at an uncle or ex-boyfriend or something can go to a court and have someone stripped of a constitutional right without ever even knowing it,” says Brown. “And we think that’s fraught with danger.”
There are a host of scenarios rife for abuse with gun restraining orders, and more Left-leaning states with these laws, like California, often seek to expand their scope once they are initially passed into law. Even groups like the ACLU – no friend of the second amendment — calls their expansion a violation of an individual’s civil rights. Of course, natural rights inevitably shrink while the state gains more authority to seize weapons under the guise of “safety” and “protection.”
House Bill 723 and House Bill 1060 are two bills that allow us to see where the Left and many state Democrats in the General Assembly really prefer to go with gun control. House Bill 723, the “Gun Safety Act,” would axe the popular “stand your ground” protections, require all gun owners to purchase liability insurance up to $100,000, and limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds on most firearms. The bill also repeals reciprocity for out-of-state concealed carry permits among a host of other regulatory restrictions. The scrapping of the “stand your ground” law is particularly odious, in that it puts the burden of proof on an armed citizen for defending their life outside of the home. If passed, the bill’s mandates and language would rapidly criminalize many North Carolina firearm owners.
House Bill 1060, or the “Ensure Safe Handguns,” law is another reminder of aggressive gun restrictions Second Amendment opponents seek to implement when or if they rise to power in North Carolina. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County and other Democrat colleagues, including Morey and Pricey Harrison of Greensboro. It mirrors the California restriction on handguns, instantly banning the sale of many models in the brands of Colt, Smith & Wesson, Kimber, Sig Sauer and others. Citizens who already own banned models can keep them but they may only be transferred or sold to law enforcement for the purpose of destruction.
Paul Valone, president of Grassroots North Carolina says the legislation works to “incrementally ban the ownership of firearms, one step at a time.” Valone notes too that the bill is only feasible if Democrats regain control of the General Assembly. “But people who value the Second Amendment should take note. If Democrats win (control of the N.C. General Assembly this November), we would eat this bill and others just like it.”
A free citizenry is warranted in arguing against this legislation, especially given that many national politicians and cultural leaders are calling the NRA and its members “terrorists.” There are even online petitions to declare the NRA a “terrorist organization,” despite the financial and political backing of millions of Americans. Given the rhetoric today, now is not a good time to cede more inherent rights to the state.
Gun control advocates are harnessing young activists such as former Parkland students and media darlings David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez to mobilize support for more gun regulations. Since most gun control measures are unpopular, activists are setting their targets on corporations to penalize them for any policy or contribution that is deemed not anti-gun.
Only 13 percent of North Carolinians in a May Civitas poll thought that stricter gun control or gun bans is the answer to protecting students and increasing safety in schools, compared to 56 percent who are in favor of more security measures, including armed guards or more school resource officers. The General Assembly has appropriated $35 million for such school safety measures, a far better option to protect students than more gun control laws.
Our Capacity for Self-Government?
Instead of calling for more government-enforced gun restrictions, North Carolinians would be wise to ask themselves more fundamental questions about our capacity for self-government. James Madison in Federalist No. 46 argued that armed citizens are the final line of defense against a tyrannical government. Madison declared too that the governments of Europe were afraid to have an armed populace, because they did not trust their own citizenry. Do North Carolinians want to hand over more power to a government that has lost the trust of its citizenry?
Understanding Our Rights
Much of the current rift on firearms protections derives from how one views rights, whether they are inherent, as the American Framers intended in the Bill of Rights, or conferred by government. Inherent rights correctly place the restrictions on government and not people.
The North Carolina Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, offers broad protections for the right to keep and bear arms. The language “shall not be infringed” is prominent in both documents. Courts have upheld some state and local regulations of firearms. However, even those have narrowed under the 2008 Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Heller decision is aggressively being utilized to overturn some existing gun regulations, since the decision reaffirmed the plain meaning of the Second Amendment text.
Solutions for Expanding An Inherent Right
Despite the efforts of many conservative or “red” states to expand the right to keep and bear arms, particularly under threats of executive orders from former president Barack Obama, there have been no transformative changes to gun laws in North Carolina in recent years. Momentum has largely stalled in the North Carolina General Assembly.
The North Carolina House passed a “constitutional carry” bill in 2017 but it has yet to receive a vote in the state Senate. North Carolina, unlike many other states, has been unable to scrap the Jim Crow era pistol permit system enacted here in 1919.
North Carolinians and their elected officials should work to follow the lead of other conservative-minded states who have expanded gun rights by scrapping the requirement for costly concealed carry permits and support House Bill 746, which has already passed the House and is awaiting Senate action in the General Assembly.
North Carolina would not be breaking any new ground here but only following the lead of a number of other states that seek to expand Second Amendment rights. Open carry of a firearm is legal in North Carolina, and proponents of “constitutional carry” are right to point out that merely putting a firearm in a pocket should not make something that is legal, illegal. Vermont, one of the most politically liberal states has allowed permitless carry for over 200 years. West Virginia and Missouri even overrode vetoes of constitutional carry legislation from Democrat governors in 2016.
The outdated and Jim Crow era pistol permit system should be scrapped too. While the pistol permit is only $5, it’s unfair to require citizens to pay to exercise an inherent right, and then make it more costly by requiring a one size fits all concealed carry permit process for any citizen desiring to fully exercise that right.
More women, including black women in North Carolina, are choosing to utilize their Second Amendment rights by acquiring concealed carry permits. The percentage of women receiving the concealed carry permit has increased from 21 percent to 29 percent from 2012 to 2017. All levels of government – federal, state, and local – should be doing more for those who wish to protect themselves and their families from harm and unwanted violence.
Finally, instead of expanding an inherent right, the super-charged rhetoric and activism of the Left would rather return to the failed gun-control policies of the past. There are over 325 million firearms in the United States and the vast majority of legal gun-owners never have a single incident with a firearm. They follow the law because they are already law-abiding citizens. Given that state lawmakers swear an oath to uphold the state and federal Constitution, the citizenry should be vigilant of how legislators are working to help secure “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”