Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order at a press conference Tuesday creating the Office of Violence Prevention in the Department of Public Safety, the first of its kind in the South.
Cooper was joined by Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein, Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley, and other guests for the signing.
A clearinghouse, Cooper said, is needed to grow the infrastructure to tackle violence in a comprehensive and coordinated way, as gunfire has surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury deaths among children, and as children in North Carolina are 51% more likely to die from gun violence than in the United States as a whole.
“Too many families and communities are enduring the tragic injuries and deaths from homicide, from carelessness, from suicide. And whether a gun is used or not, violence is a tragedy that has to be stopped,” he said. “It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and that’s what this is about today.”
The office will coordinate efforts on violence prevention by providing training and technical assistance, issue best-practice guidance and model processes, facilitate information sharing across state and local leaders working to reduce violence, conduct public awareness campaigns, share data, collaborate with research institutions, and help with applying for grants.
Buffaloe will begin the hiring process shortly for an executive director for the office, which will be funded by using existing state and federal funds. Cooper said if it is successful, they would like to make the office a permanent part of state law.
The office will work closely with other state agencies, including NCDHHS. Kinsley stressed that gun violence is a public health issue, with five North Carolinians dying from a firearm-related injury each day, and the firearm-related suicide rate for children nearly tripling in two decades.
“We know that when we follow the data, and we understand these problems, we match it with these solutions that work,” he said. “We cannot let another child die because they accidentally stumble upon a gun in the back seat of their father’s truck and lose their lives. We cannot let another person die because, in their deep moment of hopelessness, they feel like the only option they have is to end their life. We can do these things and save these lives and we do it by working together.”
Buffaloe echoed Kinsley’s sentiments about working together and said steps are already underway to focus on violence-prevention efforts. A statewide initiative about the importance of responsible firearm storage from the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention division of DPS is set to be rolled out in late spring.
Stein said people’s Second Amendment rights could be recognized while taking common-sense measures to drive down the number of gun deaths in the state by putting in place universal background checks, instituting red flag laws so family members can petition a court to temporarily remove a gun from a loved one’s possession, and raising the minimum age to 21 to buy an AR-15 or other semi-automatic rifle.
Cooper also said the action to create the office was necessary since the General Assembly has not wanted to take steps to combat gun violence. He disagrees with the House (H.B. 50) and Senate (S.B. 40) versions of a bill that would repeal the state’s permit law for buying handguns, among other gun bills.
“The legislature is looking to pass several gun bills, but I would like us to move forward to fight gun violence with legislation instead of backward,” he said.
Cooper said he is in favor of the provisions Stein spoke about in terms of reducing the number of guns that could get into the hands of children, of people who are a danger to themselves or others, of criminals who endanger people in the community, and who endanger law enforcement officers.
“Legislation that I have seen right now goes the opposite way, and so we’ll continue to fight that kind of legislation but also continue to encourage the General Assembly to take some positive steps,” he added.
“The facts tell a different story than the governor,” a spokesman for Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham said. “Over the last five years, there have only been four convictions for obtaining a pistol without getting a permit first. The claim that repealing the pistol purchase permit will make our communities more dangerous is absurd.”
Jon Guze, senior fellow for legal studies with the John Locke Foundation, said it’s good that Cooper and Stein finally recognize the importance of public safety and that they are committing themselves to an “evidence-based” approach.
“As it happens, public safety is a topic for which there is already a great deal of well-corroborated evidence, and that evidence clearly shows that “intensive community policing” is the most humane and cost-effective way to deter crime,” Guze said. “That means hiring more police officers, paying them higher salaries, providing them with state-of-the-art training and support, and deploying them to act as peacekeepers in high-crime, high-disorder neighborhoods. This initiative will only succeed if it results in more cops on the street. Approaches involving things like gun control and community development will fail.”
Editors Note: This story has been updated.