Politics & Government

‘I’m willing to show you the scars.’ Shooting survivor wants debate on NC gun bills.

UNC Charlotte shooting survivor urges state lawmakers to debate gun reform bills

Drew Pescaro, a survivor of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte in April, speaks during a press conference announcing that NC House Democrats are working to move two gun reform bills to a vote in response to recent mass violence in Texas and Ohio.
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Drew Pescaro, a survivor of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte in April, speaks during a press conference announcing that NC House Democrats are working to move two gun reform bills to a vote in response to recent mass violence in Texas and Ohio.

In the wake of more mass shootings across the country, renewed calls for gun regulation are happening in North Carolina’s state government, too. Democrats are trying to move two gun bills to a vote, but they need Republican help for the discussion and debate to happen.

Drew Pescaro, a UNC Charlotte student who survived the shooting there in April, said lawmakers are obligated to discuss the bills. He spoke during a news conference Tuesday at the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh.

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Drew Pescaro, a survivor of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte in April, stands for a portrait outside the North Carolina Legislative Building displaying his scar left by multiple surgeries for injuries caused by a bullet that entered his back one inch away from his spine, after speaking during a press conference with legislators on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in Raleigh, NC. NC House Democrats announced they are working to move two gun reform bills to a floor vote. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Pescaro showed reporters his scars from a bullet entering his back and exiting his lower chest when he was shot in anthropology class on April 30.

UNC Charlotte students Reed Parlier and Riley Howell were killed. Pescaro, 20, who is from Apex, spent almost a month in the hospital recovering from his injuries. Three others were also injured.

On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper called for action on two bills that have sat in committee without discussion.

“The time for condolences alone has long passed, and now it is time for action. The General Assembly should move quickly to debate the details of these bills so that we can end up with legislation to keep deadly weapons out of the wrong hands,” Cooper’s statement said.

Two mass shootings, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, happened over the weekend. Pescaro said he understands the pain and grieving of the survivors of those shootings and family members of the victims.

Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat and former judge, said Democrats also held news conferences after previous mass shootings calling for gun reform legislation. Republicans control the General Assembly and have not allowed those bills to come up for a vote; some Republicans have pushed for expanded gun rights, arguing that’s the best way to stop mass shooters.

Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a statewide gun rights group based in Raleigh, said the bills’ sponsors “have declared that gun control is the cure for anything that ails us.”

But Pescaro questioned why “the shooting in our state wasn’t enough to bring us to a vote,” and if the two students who were killed at UNC Charlotte have been forgotten.

He said he’s tired of living his life as a victim, and just wants action “because people clearly don’t understand how much this affects someone when it happens, but also for the rest of my life I’m going to have to live with the scars that I have, and I’m willing to show you the scars that I have to push that point forward, that I’m never gonna be able to forget this because it’s what I have to look at in the mirror every single day.”

A ‘red flag’ bill

The two gun bills House Democrats are hoping to bring to a floor debate are House Bill 86 and House Bill 454. Their latest tactic is a discharge petition, which forces a move to the floor for a bill stuck in committee, but only if enough lawmakers sign on in agreement.

Discharge petitions were filed Monday for both measures with dozens of Democratic signatures. But those petitions need at least six Republicans and all Democrats to also sign for them to move from the Rules Committee to the House floor for discussion and debate. HB 86 had 42 signatures and HB 454 46 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. No Republicans had signed on at that point. Sixty-one signatures are required for the petition to work.

House Clerk James White said a discharge petition has not been successful in at least 20 years.

Morey, a primary sponsor of HB 454, called it a “red flag” bill. It would allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge for what is known as an extreme risk protection order, which would restrict a person’s access to firearms if there was evidence of them posing danger to themselves or others. The full name of the bill is “Allow ERPOs to Save Lives & Prevent Suicides.” More than a dozen other states have passed red flag laws, but North Carolina does not have this stricter gun law.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is a public health emergency,” Morey said Tuesday. “Let’s have a conversation, let’s take a vote up or down.”

Federal law already prohibits someone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from having a firearm, though there are some loopholes. In North Carolina, judges are required to force abusers to surrender their guns, The News & Observer previously reported.

In Washington state, the legislature passed a red flag bill that the National Rifle Association criticized for “infringing upon the self-defense rights of law-abiding parents or others in the household without due process,” because it includes minors in the protection orders.

Access to a firearm by an abusive domestic violence partner increases the risk of homicide eight times for women, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute.

More than 80 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in their home or a relative’s or friend’s home, the institute says.

Gun permits, waiting period

Rep. Christy Clark is one of the primary sponsors of HB 86, which would, among other things, require a permit to purchase long guns. Right now, North Carolina law requires a permit only for pistols.

HB 86 would also require a 72-hour waiting period for firearm purchases, prohibit sales or possession of bump stocks, require safe storage of guns, require lost or stolen guns be reported and require gun owners to carry firearm liability insurance.

Clark said Tuesday that she wants her Republican colleagues to make a choice about whether they side with gun violence victims or the gun lobby.

House Democrats said they are willing to negotiate parts of each bill with Republicans.

Gun at legislative building

On the House floor Monday night, Rep. Joe John, a Wake County Democrat, tied the gun debate to last week’s arrest of a man accused of trying to bring a gun and two full magazines of ammunition into the Legislative Building. The man had an appointment with John that same day, but never showed up.

After thanking police and others, John asked his colleagues to imagine the man’s appointment had been with them instead of him.

“And as you reflect, I would ask you to consider whether it is now not time to throw partisanship and ideology into the trash can, and to sit down for a full, frank and open-minded conversation about reaching a North Carolina common sense consensus with regards to role of firearms in our state,” John said.

Republican response to shootings

Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, posted on Facebook Tuesday morning about the recent shootings.

“We have a duty to dig into the deep rooted societal issues that have produced an irresponsible and isolated culture where actions like the ones we just saw have become commonplace: Breakdown of family, removal of God in our lives and schools, decreased human interaction, lack of empathy, and mental illnesses, just to name a few root causes,” Lewis wrote.

“I am interested in additional common sense proposals that will keep all North Carolinians safe. That being said, any effort to advance gun safety by preventing truly dangerous individuals from accessing firearms should be structured to fully protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Lewis said in the post.

Lewis told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t know if the two bills will come up, calling their prospects “extremely uncertain.” He said bills should go through the normal legislative process rather than being pulled out of committee.

Lewis said Republicans have had conversations since the recent mass shootings and “will continue to look at all good ideas that come up and act accordingly.” They may be willing to discuss extreme risk protection orders but have concerns about due process, Lewis said.

Lewis also pointed to existing laws that require background checks. Federal law requires background checks on sales by licensed dealers, and North Carolina law requires them on private sales of pistols.

“Obviously I’m very concerned about the incidents,” he said, calling them tragic and terrible.

The spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, did not respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.

Valone, of Grass Roots North Carolina, said in a phone interview Tuesday that HB 86 was a “we want to ban all the guns wish list” and said HB 454, about the protection orders, should be called “gun confiscation orders.” He thinks red flag laws violate due process. Valone said that the group is run by volunteers and is not the “gun lobby.”

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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