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The wrong direction on gun legislation

The N.C. Senate is poised to approve a bill that would allow more guns in more places in our state – including bars and all public educational property – while making it easier for those weapons to end up in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

People who know about guns think this is a bad idea. Police chiefs on every UNC campus don’t like it, and the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police has opposed weapons on school property. The N.C. Sheriffs’ Association is worried, too, about a new addition to the bill that would do away with a law that requires a permit from county sheriffs for handgun purchases.

The reason for the opposition is quite simple: Those provisions, and this bill, would make people less safe.

North Carolinians seem to agree. Again and again in polls, they’ve expressed the desire for tightening, not loosening, gun laws. Last month, an Elon University poll asked N.C. residents if they agreed with this general statement: “There should be more legal restrictions on handguns in our society.” Almost 57 percent said yes, while just 39.5 percent disagreed.

And yet, incredibly, N.C. lawmakers are poised to do the opposite, despite what common sense should tell them.

H.B. 937 bill would let concealed carry permit-holders bring guns into bars and other places where alcohol is served, despite common sense saying alcohol and firearms might be a less-than-ideal mix.

The bill lets concealed carry handguns on all educational property, including in cars at colleges and universities, despite common sense (and police chiefs) saying that the latter increases the possibility of guns getting the wrong hands from vehicle break-ins, which are common on campuses.

And now, thanks to a last-minute Republican proposal, the bill also eliminates an important check on handgun purchases – county sheriffs. Already this year, N.C. lawmakers proposed barring sheriffs from requesting the mental health records of applicants for concealed gun permits. Now, sheriffs might be cut out altogether. The result, says N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper: “more criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerous mentally ill can legally buy handguns.”

You might think that even gun-rights advocates would oppose that, and many do. Gun owners, by and large, are responsible with their weapons, and they understand the need for some laws that ensure the safety of all. That’s why a majority of gun owners, in North Carolina and nationwide, are in favor of expanding background checks for gun purchases.

But extreme gun-rights activists oppose most any new law that makes it more difficult for people to have guns when they want and where they want. If their opposition means that criminals or the mentally ill might have easier access to guns? So be it. And if a gun tragedy happens because of that access? That’s a people problem, not a weapon problem.

Now, enough N.C. lawmakers seem ready to give in to that vocal minority. H.B. 937 goes next to the full Senate, and it will likely reach the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory. We hope the governor, at least, remembers that he represents all of North Carolina’s citizens, the majority of whom believe legislators should work toward more gun safety, not eliminate the safeguards we already have.

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