North Carolina

NC Democrat pitches 'red flag' gun law. In less than a day, it goes to where bills die.

NC lawmakers propose red flag gun laws that would allow judges to temporarily remove weapons from people who exhibit behavior that is threatening to themselves or others.
NC lawmakers propose red flag gun laws that would allow judges to temporarily remove weapons from people who exhibit behavior that is threatening to themselves or others. AP photo

When Marcia Morey first proposed a new law to give North Carolina judges the authority to remove guns from people who’ve exhibited “threatening, erratic or dangerous behavior," it was the Florida school shooting that spurred the Durham Democrat to push for change.

Since then, two more high-profile shootings at high schools have occurred — at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland, where the school resource officer shot at the gunman after two students were injured; and just last week at Santa Fe High School in Texas, where 10 people were killed.

On Monday, days after the Texas shooting raised new questions about how to make schools safe for the children who attend them, Morey filed a bill calling for a red flag law in North Carolina.

By Tuesday afternoon, with no discussion, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, sent the bill to the rules committee, where lawmakers say "bills go to die."

"There are some bills sent to rules and they've come out," Morey said after a news conference to announce her proposal.

Her proposal would set up a procedure through which judges have a tool similar to a domestic violence restraining order to get weapons quickly and temporarily out of the hands of people exhibiting threatening or dangerous behavior.

Under her proposal, family members or law enforcement officers who have first-hand knowledge of someone behaving in a threatening manner in possession of or with access to a firearm could petition a district court judge for a gun violence restraining order.

If granted, the judge would order law enforcement to temporarily remove any weapons, then schedule a hearing within 10 business days to give the person and others an opportunity to discuss whether to bar the person from having firearms for a full year.

"The gun violence restraining order is not a solution to gun violence, but it can be a huge first step in the right direction to stop future tragedies," Morey told a roomful of reporters and supporters from Moms Demand Action, an organization formed in 2012 after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

"It is saying to people that if you see something, not only do you have the power to say something, you can now do something."

The proposal is similar to laws that have been passed in other states such as Florida, Maryland, Vermont and Delaware since Feb. 14, when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle. Cruz had been expelled from the school for disciplinary reasons.

The shooting left 17 dead and added a new voice to calls for reform of gun laws — the Parkland students who were inside the school as the shooter fired shot after shot.

The North Carolina Sheriff's Association "supports the concept of extreme violence protective orders," Morey said.

N.C. House of Representatives member Judge Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat who spent 18 years as a district court judge, proposes that North Carolina lawmakers adopt a Gun Violence Restraining Order in the wake of school shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe, Texas. N&O file photo

After 18 years as a judge on the Durham district court bench, Morey said she presided over many hearings in which such a protective order might have helped prevent a shooting or suicide.

"Time and time again I heard family members and law enforcement and victims testify about warning signs, red flags — 'he was a time bomb waiting to go off' or 'I knew this was going to happen' or 'I knew he was going to take his own life.'"

The bill, Morey said, would allow the courts "to remove guns from the hands of people who are on the verge of violence to others or themselves."

Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake County Democrat and member of the Army Reserves, spoke briefly in support of the proposal as a way to get weapons temporarily out of the hands of suicidal military veterans.

Overall in America, about 123 Americans die by suicide each day, Martin said, and about 20 of those are veterans and one to two are active service members.

"If you ask the experts that actually do the research on this what some of the factors are that go into the increasing number of suicides, one of them is, in fact, access to lethal means," Martin said. "This bill would address that problem by allowing those close to an individual, to a veteran perhaps, who see signs that they may be interested in hurting themselves, to have a procedure that incorporates due process to remove that deadly access to lethal means that is such a significant factor."

Efforts to reach Moore on Tuesday were not immediately successful.

Moore appointed a committee to study school safety after the Parkland shootings and last week the lawmakers released a series of recommendations that called for better mental health strategies and for funding to set up a statewide anonymous tip line for reporting of potential threats, but did not include a red flag law.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said some of the state senators planned to introduce a proposal Wednesday that is similar to Morey's.

"This is not going to hurt anybody who is a lawful possessor of firearms who wants to use it for hunting, who wants to use it for other lawful means," McKissick said Tuesday. "But for those people who would do harm to their selves, or that would do harm to others, and have expressed their willingness to do so to people that are surrounding them, it gives us an opportunity to go out and intercept them before they go out and commit a tremendous act of violence, perhaps another atrocity or even another suicide."

Connecticut led the way with adoption of a red flag law in 1999. Indiana followed suit in 2005, California in 2014, Washington state in 2016, and Oregon in 2017.

"Why would we not want to establish a mechanism where we could remove firearms on a temporary basis from those who would threaten to do harm to themselves or to others?" McKissick asked. "That's common sense. They come before a judge. They can explain their conduct. They can explain their thoughts. They can explain their action. And if there's clear and convincing evidence that they intended to do harm to themselves or to others, for a year, those weapons would be gone. They would be out of their control. "

Many of the Democrats pushing the proposals said they thought lawmakers should go even further to limit access to some firearms, but described the red flag law as one that they hoped could draw bipartisan support.

Recalling Virginia Tech shooting

One of the speakers who came out to support such a law was Aaron Wolff, a veterinarian in Wake County who was a student at Virginia Tech in 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

He was troubled that within 24 hours of Morey's submitting her proposal that GOP lawmakers already had sent it to the rules committee.

"It shows you they won't even consider something," Wolff said. "They won't even give it the light of day."

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