News: CJ Exclusives

Governor signs directive meant to strengthen background checks, promote gun safety 

Gov. Roy Cooper isn’t waiting for lawmakers to act.

Cooper on Monday, Aug. 12, signed an Executive Directive aimed at improving gun safety and preventing gun-related suicides in North Carolina. 

The Democratic governor announced the initiative at the N.C. Department of Public Safety’s School Safety Summit in Greensboro.

“Recognizing that the odds are long for our current legislature to make real changes, today I signed an Executive Directive to my cabinet agencies to build on the work we’ve done to this point,” Cooper said. “Wishing, praying, and sending condolences alone just aren’t enough to prevent these tragedies. We have to take action.”

Since March 2018, the State Bureau of Investigation has reviewed information shared with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal background check system. The work has culminated in 284,289 individual instances of criminal convictions, which were previously unreported and have been added to the NICS. 

This improves the quality of every background check and helps keep guns out of the wrong hands,” Cooper said. 

The directive calls for the SBI to continue to convene a NICS working group to look into reporting gaps and ensure continued compliance with the federal background check system. 

The directive requires the SBI Behavioral Threat Assessment Unit to provide behavioral threat assessment training to law enforcement agencies and to increase presentations to businesses and civic groups to build community awareness of domestic terrorism indicators. 

Under the directive, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services must develop a public education campaign to teach people about safe firearm storage. 

DHHS will be required to assemble coalition of suicide prevention stakeholders to suggest updates to the state’s Suicide Prevention Plan as it relates to gun-related suicides. 

The Division of Emergency Management, along with DHHS, will convene a meeting of stakeholders to develop a plan and guidelines to set up Family Assistance and Victim Identification Centers to respond to mass casualty incidents. 

“It’s hard to disagree with any of the basic gun safety measures outlined in Governor Cooper’s Executive Directive as community presentations about firearm safety and suicide prevention awareness seem like pretty simple activities that everybody supports,” Bill D’Elia, spokesman for Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in an email. “It’s honestly surprising that these agencies are not already doing this.”

Paul Valone, the president of Grass Roots North Carolina, said the Executive Directive is just Cooper’s way of window dressing for the 2020 election.

“The General Assembly under Republican control has already improved compliance with NICS. A couple of years ago they passed legislation requiring clerks to superior courts to immediately report involuntary commitments and other mental adjudications to NICS within I believe 72 hours,” Valone said. “Our rate of compliance with NICS is quite good.”

Valone also took issue with the behavioral threat assessment provision in the Executive Directive. While no one wants mentally unstable people to have guns, Valone said he’s worried that behavioral threat assessments could be used to confiscate guns from people who express certain viewpoints on social media.

The Executive Directive comes after mass shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio left 34 people dead. The recent tragedies have renewed calls for action to pass gun-control legislation on the state and national level.  

On Aug. 6, several Democratic lawmakers held a news conference pushing for a vote on two gun-control bills that stalled in the House Judiciary Committee since they were introduced earlier this year. 

House Bill 86, Gun Violence Prevention Act, would implement a variety of gun control measures ranging from requiring a purchase permit for “long guns” to requiring a 72-hour waiting period after purchase of a firearm. 

House Bill 454 would establish Extreme Risk Protection Orders. ERPOs would allow the state to temporarily seize someone’s firearms if a judge determines that person is a risk to others or to themselves. The so-called “red flag” laws have been passed in 17 states. 

The bills’ sponsors introduced discharge petitions to force the bills out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote, but so far too few legislators have signed on to pass the measures. No Republicans have signed the petitions.  

Valone said H.B. 86 and H.B. 454 are not the answer to preventing mass shootings. Instead, Valone said lawmakers should pass House Bill 216, School Self-Defense Act, which GRNC helped draft. The bill would allow select trained teachers to carry guns in schools if they wished.

“That way we could actually deter sociopaths, because as the El Paso shooter correctly noted in his manifesto, he — like most violent sociopaths — avoid armed victims and go for soft targets,” Valone said.

H.B. 216 received pushback from Democratic lawmakers, educators, and gun-control advocates when it was introduced. The bill hasn’t been heard in committee since it was introduced in February.

Cooper has called for the General Assembly to take action on H.B. 86 and H.B. 454, but Republicans have been reluctant to talk about new gun-control measures.