A half dozen years ago – although it seems like a lifetime – our nation waited to see how leaders in Washington would respond to the horrifying shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary. Washington, as we know, did little – as Washington has continued to do through an onslaught of gun massacres since. Connecticut, however, decided to act.
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, state lawmakers passed and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a package of strong gun measures. The package expanded a ban on the sale of assault weapons and required the registration of existing assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. It launched a registry of weapons offenders and mandated background checks for all sales of firearms.
It worked. As the New York Times reported Sunday, gun deaths started to drop after the laws passed. In four years, the number of deaths resulting from firearms – including homicides, suicides and accidents – fell from 226 to 164.
Now, with Congress ready for another round of inactivity in the wake of 17 more students and educators dying in Florida, it will once again be up to states to protect their citizens from gun violence. With few exceptions, states with the strictest gun control measures have the lowest rates of gun deaths. North Carolina does not; we’re 23rd in the country in firearm deaths per capita, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
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To be more precise: In Connecticut, Nikolas Cruz could not have legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle and high capacity magazines he used to mow down the victims in Parkland, Fla. In North Carolina, he could have.
Changing that – and passing other tough gun control measures – is harder in our state thanks to North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly. But that doesn’t mean Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, shouldn’t try. As North Carolinians grapple with the possibility of a Florida mass shooting happening here, Cooper should call for lawmakers to address the spiraling toll of gun violence. He should follow up by working to help legislators introduce tough gun measures like Connecticut’s, as well as other sensible measures such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases. If we don’t think 18-year-olds have the maturity to hoist a beer, they sure shouldn’t be able to lift and fire their own semiautomatic weapons.
That legislative package also should include measures that address the mental health issues that Republicans often cite as the cause of mass shootings. Confronting gun violence shouldn’t be about choosing one party’s preferred approach, and there is no one law that will prevent gun violence. But a package of measures that help lessen the chance of the next deadly day is one worth passing.
Will Cooper succeed? It’s a long shot. Republican leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore probably won’t even let such bills get to the floor of their chambers. But the governor – and all North Carolinians – should force legislators to declare which gun violence measures they don’t support. Make lawmakers go on the record if they don’t think it’s a good idea to protect their constituents in any reasonable way they can, so that N.C. voters can know come election time. We’ll be happy to provide those reminders for Charlotte.