It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. A message from a son or daughter saying they love you, but there’s a shooter at school and they’re scared they won’t make it out. As a parent and as the Governor of North Carolina, it’s my duty to do everything I can to prevent a child from ever having to send such a message.
After the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, conversations about school safety and gun reforms have taken place all over America. Brave students are making their voices heard, and it’s clear they want action. I do too.
At my request, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has directed law enforcement and school administrators to ensure their rapid deployment training and school emergency response plans are in order. Preparation and open communication lines can make all the difference in a life or death situation. But preparing for the worst and praying it never happens isn’t enough. We need smart changes to our laws that will help keep dangerous weapons from getting into the wrong hands.
Enacting extreme risk protection orders in North Carolina is an important step toward preventing future tragedies. An extreme risk protection order would empower people to ask the courts to take guns temporarily from an individual who is a danger to themselves or the community. Democrats and Republicans across the country have found common ground in supporting these protection orders, and we can too.
In North Carolina, we also need to strengthen the background check system to make our communities safer and keep guns from violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Right now, anyone buying a handgun in our state has to apply for a permit through the local sheriff’s office, a process that includes a federal background check and an OK from the sheriff. This system allows time for appropriate checks to take place before someone can legally buy a handgun. But our law has a glaring loophole since this background check and permit process isn’t required to buy an assault weapon like an AR-15, the weapon used in Parkland. It should be.
Until the federal government takes action to discontinue the sale of assault weapons to civilians, North Carolina law should be updated to raise the legal age of sale of these weapons to age 21 and require anyone buying them — at a store, online, or at a gun show — to go through the same background check and permitting process as they would for a handgun. There’s no good reason for the current double standard.
Background checks are an important part of keeping guns out of the wrong hands, but they are only as good as the information in the database. To ensure that we are doing our part to make background checks more effective, I’ve directed the State Bureau of Investigation to undertake a comprehensive inventory of the quality of information our state shares with the federal background check system. If critical information our state should be reporting is missing, we need to know and we need to change that.
Right now, it appears as though the federal government is moving to ban so-called ‘bump stocks.’ If that effort falls through, we should take action in North Carolina to ban these devices, which turn semi-automatic guns into machine guns. This type of accessory was used in the Las Vegas shooting last year to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. We don’t need these devices in our state.
Finally, it is clear that there needs to be better diagnosis and treatment of people with mental illness, especially those who might turn violent. For that to happen, mental health care needs to be more accessible. I have long advocated for North Carolina to close our health care coverage gap by accepting federal funds that are offered to us to cover 500,000 more North Carolinians. This would benefit working families who currently earn just a little bit too much to be eligible for Medicaid but still can’t afford to pay for health care. It would connect hundreds of thousands of people with quality mental health care to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks.
We can also increase the number of school personnel who receive youth and adult mental health first aid training, which covers common mental health challenges that young people face and provides guidance for how to help them in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
The steps I’ve outlined here are meaningful, common sense changes that we can make to better protect our children and our communities. We can’t wait for Washington to act this time. The safety and security of our kids are on the line, and I urge the General Assembly to join me in taking decisive action to do right by them.