Let’s strengthen state’s weak gun laws

We are republishing the opinion from Dr. Roger Hartley, Associate Professor at WCU Political Science and Public Affairs Department published in Asheville Citizen-Times on Jan. 18.

Dr. Roger Hartley. Photo from WCU Political Science Department.

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., and in the midst of our current national debate on gun laws, I’d like to share some information about how our state is rated on the strength of its gun laws.

One source, The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, provides a state-by-state “scorecard.” Although The Brady Coalition is an advocate of gun control measures, the ratings demonstrate strengths and weaknesses of state gun laws nationally. States like New York have the highest scores and are granted up to 4 stars. States with few restrictions at all, score low. The score is based on points assigned to laws currently on the books in states across our nation.

So how did we do? North Carolina received a low score of 16 out of 100. We received a “1 star” rating which is assigned to states with “weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market and allows the sale of guns without background checks and put children at risk.” I urge N.C. citizens, liberal, conservative and moderate to go to their scorecard to see what laws we have and do not have in place. It’s a starting point.

While the conservative National Rifle Association does not appear to rate or score states, it does provide a wealth of information that only confirms what is missing from N.C. state laws.

According to Brady, among the missing laws include regulations that are popular, including simple measures like background checks on rifles, at gun shows, a requirement to report stolen guns to police, and child safety locks. The list continues with multiple places in the scorecard with “zeros” denoting the absence of laws. The NRA site notes, for instance, that N.C. citizens do not have to have a permit to purchase rifles, and N.C. has no requirement to register rifles, no licensing of owners and no permits to carry rifles.

Handguns do require a permit to purchase and carry, but laws are weaker on registration and licensing of ownership. N.C. also does not restrict purchase of large capacity magazines (more than 10 rounds) and certainly does not have much in the way of restrictions on so-called semi-automatic, military style assault rifles. The lack of background checks, licensing and other reasonable regulations to make it more difficult for dangerous individuals to obtain guns is surprising, given popular support for these laws. Our laws on guns should be revisited in the wake of shifting opinion.

Citizens of N.C. will not support every measure supported by Brady, but the fact is that our laws are quite weak in comparison to other states, and we are part of a national patchwork of laws with hole after hole as you drive from state to state. Brady confirms the weakness of N.C. laws and the NRA confirms how we stack up nationally. As the legislature begins its 2013 session, we should ask that our representatives renew efforts to strengthen our laws with shifting public opinion in mind and with an eye toward balance to protect reasonable rights to possess firearms. Reasonable and popular restrictions like the ending of background check loopholes, registration requirements, and extension of permits should be easy and on the table for consideration. Limits to the size of magazines and types of rapid fire assault weapons should be debated as well.

Law-abiding citizens that wish to own guns and use guns for hunting, recreation and protection should be proud to set this example, and many are proud in other states with tighter laws. As we consider the courage to limit freedom in instances where freedom can so easily harm others, consider that so many Americans have proudly endured even pat-down searches at our airports to combat terrorism. There is no doubt that solutions to this problem are multifaceted and they are difficult. This is true with any effort the state takes to prevent crimes, but we try in other areas and we should be trying in this one.