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Don’t weaken background check laws

By Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple
Special to the Observer

We should be proud that North Carolina has been a leader in the struggle against gun violence, that we love our neighbor enough to pass laws keeping guns out of the wrong hands, limiting the plague of violence on our streets. But now our good common-sense laws are under attack – and we have to defend them.

With all the talk in Washington these past few months about background checks for gun buyers, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle that 16 states (along with the District of Columbia) already require all handgun buyers to pass checks before they can complete their sales. As leaders in the Episcopal Church in North Carolina, we’re proud to say that the Tar Heel State is among that group. In fact, the state has been requiring purchase permits for handguns since before the Brady Bill was passed in the 1990s. This means that people prohibited from buying handguns can’t buy them here because the sheriffs who issue permits screen them.

You can only imagine our alarm when the state Senate passed a bill that would remove this sensible permit requirement, effectively eliminating background checks for private handgun sales. This bill would actually reopen a “private sale” loophole that we already closed. With an estimated 40 percent of gun transfers nationally occurring between “private” parties not subject to a background check under federal law, this creates an incredibly dangerous situation.

If this bill were to become law, criminals and the dangerously mentally ill could find any seller who is not a licensed dealer, and buy a weapon – perhaps by answering one of thousands of North Carolina postings currently on Armslist.com advertising private handgun sales. There would be no purchase permit, no background check and no questions asked.

This is clearly a dangerous and careless bill. Voices from across the state have spoken in opposition to the legislation: The provision in the bill eliminating handgun purchase permits has been opposed by Attorney General Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, and the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police. Fourteen bipartisan mayors representing big cities and small towns alike have written to our state legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory to express strong opposition to the bill. (McCrory says he favors keeping the gun permitting process.)

Months before we were aware of this legislation, the 197th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina encouraged N.C. Episcopalians “to hold our leaders accountable for creating comprehensive public policies that address the causes and effects of gun violence, including stricter gun controls, enhanced enforcement of gun laws, and improved mental-health care services.” We are writing now to join that chorus. We stand strongest when we stand as a community. We cannot have such a laissez-faire attitude toward public safety that we simply look the other way when convicted criminals look to get armed.

Too much of the daily work of leaders of all faiths and denominations across North Carolina is helping grieving parishioners cope with loss in the wake of gun violence, and too much of our daily work is presiding over funerals of young people shot to death with guns that made their way into the wrong hands.

We see too much bloodshed in our communities already – more than 2,000 of our friends and neighbors in North Carolina were shot to death from 2006 to 2010. We should not be eliminating our laws – we should be lifting each other up by strengthening them. We see this as living out the teaching of Jesus who taught us “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, background checks are common sense but it’s about more than that. It’s about being a good citizen, about caring enough for each other that we take a few extra steps to help save the lives of those around us.

We call on our state leaders to reject this mistaken bill. Don’t set a national example by responding to the tragic loss of life in Newtown with a law that would enable more dangerous people to threaten our communities.

The Right Reverend Michael Bruce Curry has been the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina since 2000. The Right Reverend Anne Hodges-Copple was consecrated as the Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in June.
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